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WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL 
AN EPILEPTIC? 



OTHER WORKS ON EPILEPSY 
By DR. WOODS 

IN SPITE OF EPILEPSY. Being a review of the lives of 
three great epileptics, — Julius Caesar, Mohammed and Lord 
Byron, — the founders respectively of an empire, a religion, 
and a school of poetry. $1.65 by mail. 

THE TREATMENT OF EPILEPSY ACCORDING TO THE 
METHOD SUGGESTED BY PROF. FELIX VON NIE- 
MEYER. Read before the American Medical Association 
in Philadelphia and published in the Journal of the Ameri- 
can Medical Association, Chicago. 

HISTORY OF A CASE OF EPILEPSY OF 52 YEARS' 
DURATION, WITH TWENTY-EIGHT THOUSAND 
CONVULSIONS; RECOVERY. Read in the Academy of 
Medicine, New York, before the National Association for 
the Study of Epilepsy and the Care and Treatment of Epi- 
leptics and published in The Monthly Cyclopedia of Practical 
Medicine, Philadelphia, Pa. 

ALCOHOLISM IN THE PARENT AS A FACTOR IN THE 
PRODUCTION OF EPILEPSY IN THE CHILD. Read 
by request before the American Society for the Study of 
Alcohol and Other Drug Narcotics at Atlantic City, 1910, 
and printed by the United States Government under the title, 
" Some Scientific Conclusions Concerning the Alcohol 
Problem and its Practical Relation to Life." 

THE USE AND A FEW OF THE ABUSES OF THE BRO- 
MIDES IN THE TREATMENT OF EPILEPSY. Read 
before the National Association for the Study of Epilepsy at 
New Haven, Connecticut, and printed in the Pennsylvania 
Medical Journal, June, 1907. 

OPERATIVE PROCEDURE AS A THERAPEUTIC MEAS- 
URE IN THE CURE OF EPILEPSY. Read before the 
National Association at Richmond, Va., and printed in the 
Journal of the American Medical Association, February 29, 
1908. 



ON THE MANAGEMENT OF EPILEPSY. Written by re- 
quest for The Cyclopedia of Practical Medicine. 

HOME TREATMENT OF EPILEPSY AS CONTRASTED 
WITH INSTITUTIONAL TREAMENT. Illustrated with 
exhibition of thirteen cases cured, read in the Section of 
Medicine, Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania, 
Philadelphia Session, 1909, and printed in Pennsylvania 
Medical Journal, 1910. 

ETIOLOGY AND TREATMENT OF EPILEPSY. Illus- 
trated with 18 patients who before treatment averaged from 
4 to 28 convulsions monthly and who had gone from two 
to sixteen years without convulsions and without treatment. 
Read before the South Branch of the Philadelphia County 
Medical Society. 

THE INDUSTRIAL STATUS OF EPILEPSY. Read by title 
before the National Association for the Study of Epilepsy; 
reprinted from The Cyclopedia of Practical Medicine, May, 
1912. 

RELATION OF ALCOHOLISM TO 1 EPILEPSY. Read in 
the Section of Hygiene and Sanitary Science at the Fifty- 
seventh Annual Session of the American Medical Associa- 
tion, Boston, 1906, and printed in the Journal of the Ameri- 
can Medical Association, Feb. 9, 1909, vol. xlviii. 



OTHER WORKS BY DR. WOODS 

DIVORCE. Being a defence of the American People against 
the charge of moral deterioration. $1.35 by mail. 

RAMBLES OF A PHYSICIAN; OR, A MIDSUMMER 
DREAM. Being a record of travel with unique experiences 
through Ireland, Scotland, England, Holland, Belgium, Ger- 
many, Hungary, Bohemia, Italy, Switzerland, and France. 
Tenth thousand. 2 vols., $3.00 net. 



WAS THE APOSTLE 
PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 



BY 

MATTHEW WOODS, M.D. 

Member of the American Medical Association, The Philadelphia 

Psychiatric Society, and The National Association 

for the Study of Epilepsy and the Care 

and Treatment of Epileptics 



NEW YORK 

THE COSMOPOLITAN PRESS 

i9!3 




Copyright, 1913, by 
The Cosmopolitan Press 



TO 

MY WIFE 



PREFACE 

In sending forth this little volume defending St. 
Paul against the charge of epilepsy — not that his hav- 
ing been thus afflicted would have been a reflection 
upon his greatness — I shall feel repaid if it does noth- 
ing else than cause men to re-read Luke's history, 
the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul's Epistles, — 
the Letters to the Hebrews, and to the various 
churches, — as these, when intelligently accepted, will 
prove a solution for all the complex difficulties of mod- 
ern life. 

Matthew Woods. 

Philadelphia, Pa., February 10, 19 13. 



PART I 



SEP 22 *- 




Abb 



CHAPTER I 

My excuse for the preparation of a literary — or 
perhaps it might be called an ecclesiastic or historic — 
paper rather than a strictly scientific one, is, first, be- 
cause you have so many of the latter and they are al- 
ways so comprehensive and complete that the fact of 
my reducing their number by one will make but little 
difference ; and, second, because the question is of uni- 
versal as well as medical and epileptic interest, and 
therefore appeals to us both as epileptologists and as 
men. 

Besides, a paper of this nature sandwiched thus be- 
tween such titles as " The Criminal Insane " and " The 
Epileptic Insane," x like a bit of cheese between two 
slices of bread, may add to that dietary variety which 
is said to be not only the spice of life, but the life of 
medical conventions. Since these are days of pre- 
ventive medicine, it may be useful in warding off mor- 
bus scientificus, that dread disease from which some 

1 The nucleus from which the present volume was developed 
was a paper read before the convention of the " National Society 
for the Study of Epilepsy," held at Baltimore a year ago, and 
appears in the Transactions of the Society between the papers 
with the above titles that were read by Dr. Borden and Dr. Fitz- 
simmons. 

13 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

one has said the world and the medical profession 
have been sadly suffering for many a day. 

It would at times appear that we know too much 
about the science, the laboratory science, of medicine, 
— that is, disease in a test-tube instead of the human 
body, — and too little about the practice of it, or about 
the relation that it bears to the ordinary utilities, pa- 
thologies, and special psychologies of life. It may be 
possible, in our eagerness to do our best for the sick, 
that with all our boasted progress just as many die 
from science too specifically applied as from quackery. 

The physician to be broadly equipped, as we see 
every day, cannot live his best life by science alone. 
There are other things in the world. He may die a 
martyr to it, and so may his patients, but cure is not 
always so easy. So, then, there is room and demand 
too for sentiment and flowers as well as for philo- 
sophic knowledge and bitters in every well regulated 
medical family. 

It has been because of this sentimental regard for 
greatness in affliction, this sympathetic recognition of 
the flag of distress, sometimes unconsciously hoisted 
by tempest-tossed humanity, that of the " thorn in the 
flesh," the particular ailment of " the Apostle to the 
Gentiles," that the world theologic, as well as medical 
and lay, from Tertullian to the present hour, has been 
asking the question for centuries, " What was it ? " 
And the answer has frequently been, " Epilepsy ! " 



14 



CHAPTER II 

There is something especially alluring about dis- 
tinguished personality, making everything connected 
with it, even its impedimenta, attractive; and no mat- 
ter how interesting a disease may be per se, it takes on 
double interest when it is a part of the make-up or 
handicap of a great name. 

Lord Byron's lameness and club foot that the cele- 
brated John Hunter failed to cure, although he was 
called to treat it when its victim was a child, — any 
neophyte in surgery could cure it now, — attracts spe- 
cial attention because of the man to whom the foot 
belonged, and because of the surgeon, anatomist, 
physiologist, pathologist, philosopher, physician, who 
tried and failed to cure it. 

Mrs. Browning's invalidism and its nature, — the 
fact of her having written " Lady Geraldine's Court- 
ship " on her back and having forgotten it as the re- 
sult of bedridden infirmity, — appeals to us more than 
the invalidism of the ordinary ennuyee. 

Alexander Pope's having to be wheeled to dinner 
in a rolling chair because he could not walk to it, and 
his being enveloped in bands like an Egyptian mummy 
because he could not sit up without them, demand 
more than mere orthopaedic consideration. 

15 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

Lords Nelson's and Raglan's empty sleeves and the 
Duke of Wellington's seton and his unhealed 
wounds, — brought from battle and carried to the 
grave, — elicit concern beyond the special nature of 
the ailments. 

The attention paid by the pen of Diderot, Voltaire, 
Grimm, Sainte-Beuve, and others to the career and 
atrophy of the diminutive Abbe Galiani would not have 
been called forth by an ordinary dwarf. 

Illustrations might be repeated as endlessly as the 
rising and the receding of the tide, even if no two 
waves are alike. 



16 



CHAPTER III 

If as physicians and men we are concerned in the 
physical disabilities of these, and others somewhat like 
them, because of interest in what they stood for, — 
homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto, — how 
much more ought we to be concerned in Paul, per- 
haps the most heroic man who fought for an ideal 
in all the tides of time, and who, more than any other, 
was instrumental in giving to the leading nations of 
the world that religion that, even when only imper- 
fectly accepted, gives to them preeminence and distinc- 
tion. 

Was he, as has been frequently asserted, an epilep- 
tic? Did he have a nervous system that responded by 
convulsions or other phenomena of epilepsy to certain 
unknown stimuli ? Or was " the thorn in the flesh, 
the messenger of Satan sent to buffet him," but a fig- 
ure of speech or a synonym for some other disorder? 

Let us look candidly into all the reasons that have 
caused so many thoughtful men to arrive at so many 
different conclusions in regard to it. And if we can- 
not agree with any of their solutions, let us attempt to 
find, if possible, something better. 



17 



CHAPTER IV 

St. Paul, although a Hebrew of the Hebrews, was 
by education a good deal of a Greek. He grew up in 
the Greek city of Tarsus at a time when it was the 
rival of Athens and Alexandria as a seat of learning. 
It was a popular place of instruction in philosophy and 
the arts, and it is likely that he imbibed there that fa- 
miliarity with Greek literature and thought that sub- 
sequently stood him in sugh good stead. 

He was familiar, we may assume, with the elegan- 
cies and splendors of Greek and Roman civilization, 
and with all the holy aspirations of the devout Jew as 
well. He was not too learned to have implied by the 
multitude of his accomplishments and the profundity 
of his scholarship that he had sacrificed all the joys 
and graces of life, like a self-satisfied pedant, to en- 
grossing study. Yet he had scholarship enough to 
qualify him splendidly for his great work. 

The vast arena of his activities was that land that, 
although its Roman and Greek invaders had beauti- 
fied it by the erection of marble cities, towns, temples, 
palaces, and theaters, had also been defiled by their im- 
plantation of vile heathen rites. 

Palestine during his time had been encircled by 
Greek towns and cities. Immigration in Herod's day 

18 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

made the villages of the Philistine coast and Decapolis 
much more Greek than Jewish. Greek had become the 
court language of the empire in the East as French 
was that of Europe in the days of Louis XIV. It 
was spoken not only by the upper classes, but, since 
Hebrew had almost become a dead language and the 
sacred books had been translated into Greek, — the 
Septuagint, — Greek was spoken by nearly everybody. 
Samaria, — that city the site of which American ex- 
ploration of late has discovered to have been the site 
of several other superimposed cities, — received a 
Greek name, and had Greek coinage and Greek idola- 
try. 

Herod had built a white marble palace to his patron 
at Paneas, afterward called Csesarea Philippi, and, if 
possible, a grander one in Jerusalem, where he also 
had rebuilt Solomon's Temple. 

At Caesarea there were splendid bazaars, spacious 
basilicas and courts of law, and enormous homes of 
sailors, with degrading Cyprian accessories to attract 
commerce ; and on an eminence above the town a tem- 
ple adorned with a colossal statue of Augustus as 
Jupiter Olympus, like our own grandiloquent " Lib- 
erty Enlightening the World," was visible away out 
at sea. Temples of Jupiter, Neptune, Apollo, Her- 
cules, Bacchus, Minerva, Victory, Astarte, and others 
were erected in various places, exhibiting the growing 
paganism of the population. 

Even Jerusalem was almost denationalized. A 
theater and amphitheater were built there, and the city 

19 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

was becoming rapidly settled by foreigners, as America 
is now, and as England and other countries in the re- 
mote past were. Even the coin of the holy city bore 
Roman inscriptions, as the following quotation shows : 
"Whose is this image and superscription? They say 
unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, 
Render therefore unto Caesar the things which 
are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are 
God's." 

Among the troops of Herod's army were Thracian, 
German, and Gallic regiments. And the Temple it- 
self, like all the less sumptuous sanctuaries of ortho- 
doxy, despite the pious zeal of heart-saddened rabbis, 
was a place of idle public assembly for the profane 
world. 

The more stately structures of pagan worship, with 
their picturesquely attired priests, pompous ritual, and 
more imposing sacrifice, outrivaled in magnitude and 
magnificence " the holy places of the Most High." 

Thus was Paul, we may conjecture, both by study 
of and proximity to this form of civilization, ac- 
quainted with all that Greece had attained in art and 
sunk to in sensuality. Just as Moses, Dr. Bently 
writes, was learned in all the learning of the Egyptians, 
Paul was a master of all the scholarships of Greece. 
His native city, we are told by Pliny, " because of its 
eminence as a seat of learning was declared urbs libera 
by that Roman Augustus that gave his name to his 
age," so that he was indeed " a citizen of no mean 
city," and he was as justly proud of it and its learned 

20 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

men as any Scotchman is of Edinburgh or any New 
Englander of that Boston that was. 

The Greek language was almost his vernacular, be- 
cause, as before said, even then Hebrew had almost be- 
come an unspoken tongue. He was familiar with va- 
rious schools of Hellenic philosophy, although this has 
been disputed, and was versed at least in the dramatic 
poetry of Greece, as is indicated by certain quotations 
and resemblances scattered through his Epistles. 

His speech to the philosophers on Mars Hill, which 
was spoken in Greek, showed that he knew the points 
of resemblances between stoicism and Christianity. 
And knowing this much of Greek manners and modes 
of thought, he was likely, too, familiar with the Greek 
theory in regard to that common disease of the Greeks, 
epilepsy. The very name of it is Greek, — inthjipiz. 
" It was an expression of the Nemesis that follows 
evil-doers and their progeny." This disease is best 
described by a Greek physician. We know that it has 
not changed its nature from its beginning in prehis- 
toric times until now, and that it is a disease that was 
the same yesterday, to-day, and shall be forever, or 
until we know it sufficiently to avoid its cause. It is 
the only actuality connected with organic life in all the 
world that has not changed nor been modified by evo- 
lution. 

During Paul's time it had been said of an epileptic, 
"Of what sin has this man's ancestors been guilty that 
he should be thus ? " Thus, two thousand years ago, 
was recognized its heredity. 

21 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

Paul must have known then that this distemper — 
despite the treatise of Hippocrates, written three hun- 
dred years previous, to prove that it had nothing to do 
with lustrations, purification, and witchcraft — still 
implied to the superstitious Greeks " anger of the 
gods," that it was a disease inflicted by the invisible 
deities because of ancestral or personal impiety. 
Hence as a Grecian, a man skilled in Hellenic modes 
of thought and expression, he alludes to his particular 
ailment as " a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him," 
— just as a real Greek would have referred to epilepsy 
as a messenger of Cybele, Neptune, Proserpine, Ceres, 
or any of the other divinities to whom in particular 
the disease was attributed. His ailment consequently 
was not, as has been variously asserted, " chronic oph- 
thalmia," nor " malaria," nor " lameness," nor " dimin- 
utiveness," as signified by the phrase " Paul the lit- 
tle," nor " temptation to sensual sin," nor " remorse 
because of having persecuted the early church," nor 
" stone," nor " temptation to deny God," nor was it 
profane love for the legendary Thecla nor any other 
creature; but it was the " falling sickness," and that 
Paul himself admits by the very wording of his expres- 
sion, " a messenger of Satan sent to buffet me." 

It has been said, too, that certain early pictures of 
Paul, painted on glass and sarcophagi found in the 
catacombs and preserved in the Vatican museum, con- 
sidered in connection with what we are told in Scrip- 
ture about him, would go far to prove that he was at 
least the subject of serious nervous disorder. This 

22 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

disorder was more likely, because of what is known of 
his actual history, to have been epilepsy than any- 
thing else. 

These pictures, although supposed to have been done 
after his death, are believed to exhibit certain charac- 
teristics of appearance that have been handed down 
by tradition. They have thus unconsciously perpe- 
trated physiognomical traits regarded now by Lom- 
broso and his school as stigmata of degeneracy, likely 
to result in or account for extremes of enthusiasm like 
Paul's, — raptures, despair, gloom, delusions, extrava- 
gant self-examinations, spiritual exaltations, frenzies, 
and the like. They are capable also of being inter- 
preted as signs of epilepsy, just as many of the fan- 
tastic forms of religion in the past and among semi- 
pagan people still, according to a new school of thought, 
are due to chronic malarial fever, that distemper that 
has always been associated, it has been said, with 
every religious extravagance. 

That Paul was sometimes stricken down suddenly 
with sickness is evidenced by allusions to it in his 
epistles and in the Acts of the Apostles, as, for ex- 
ample, in the fourth chapter of Galatians, thirteenth 
verse, and in Second Corinthians, eleventh chapter 
and fourth verse. Read them in the original, and 
observe that these attacks, occurring too as epileptic 
seizures sometimes do at moments of great emotional 
excitement, would also imply that their explanation 
might be epilepsy. 

In Second Corinthians, writing to former parish- 

23 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

ioners, he alludes to his infirmity and expresses his 
anxiety about it as follows: 

"... But now I forbear lest any man think 
of me above that which he seeth me," — referring, it 
is said, to " his emaciation and appearance of delicacy 
and invalidism." " And lest I should be exalted 
above measure through the abundance of the revela- 
tions, there was given to me a thorn (or stake) in the 
flesh . . ." He continues : " For this thing I be- 
sought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 
And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee : 
for my strength is made perfect in weakness. . . . 
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, 
in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's 
sake ; for when I am weak, then am I strong." 

All of which, it has been declared, give support to 
the theory that this obscure disorder, with its indi- 
cated periodicity, or expected return at certain more 
or less regular intervals, was the falling sickness. 

On the way from Corinth to Galatea he was dis- 
abled, according to Luke's account, by what would 
seem a severe attack of some unnamed character. It 
came and left suddenly, as the ordinary epileptic 
seizure does, preventing him from proceeding on his 
journey. But it did not prevent him from preaching 
to the Galatians shortly afterward, and so effectively 
too that the result was the establishment of a branch 
church there, which subsequently became an object 
of great personal solicitude to him. 

If this sickness had been of any sort but one of 

24 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

short duration, like a fit, he could not have labored 
with such good consequences immediately afterward; 
and this circumstance also implies epilepsy. For 
neither malaria nor ophthalmia, nor any of the other 
conditions said to be but synonyms for the " thorn in 
the flesh," would be likely to run so short a course 
without being mentioned by name. 

Again, in defending himself against the adverse re- 
marks of certain Corinthian opponents, he quotes thus 
from his accusers : " For his letters they say are weak 
and his speech contemptible." This charge, in such 
bad taste too, seems to have annoyed him, as if it had 
struck home and touched a tender spot, as personal 
remarks do still, for he recurs to it several times in 
subsequent paragraphs of the letter. He resents it, 
but in a sort of bantering way, as if he did not wish 
it supposed that he took it too seriously. 

We can almost see the equivocal smile on his face, 
a combination of apology, indifference, and concern, 
as he repeats the words alluding to his personal looks. 
Yet, in extenuation of this apparent supersensitive- 
ness, it must be remembered that personal pulchritude 
was of prime importance, especially among the 
beauty-loving Greeks, whose estheticism he must to 
some extent have absorbed. 

" Let such an one think this," he writes, " that such 
as we are in word by letters, when we are absent, 
such will we be also in deed when we are present." As 
if his looks belied both his letters and his deeds. 
Archdeacon Light foot sees in this an acknowledgment 

25 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

of suspended development, stunted growth or the like, 
such as might be the result of abnormal organization, 
making epilepsy a probable corollary and, taken with 
his peculiar symptoms mentioned by himself, more 
than probable. 

According to traditions handed down after his 
death and judging from pictures and caricatures of 
the same period, he was " small of stature, bald, rick- 
ety, corpulent, close-browed, with prominent nose and 
eager features." The hooked beak was not yet re- 
garded by the " funny men " of the age as " a He- 
brew characteristic." " Nevertheless," asserts this 
chronicler from whose writings the above is quoted, 
" he exhibits mental superiority, personal dignity and 
grace, and at times the face of an angel, capable of 
expressing all the deep emotions of humanity." 

He must indeed have been of an attractive person- 
ality, notwithstanding intimated physical defects, 
since everybody who knew him intimately, as the 
whole authentic record of his life shows, was at- 
tracted to and by him, so that, despite every handicap, 
he became the greatest of the Apostles. 



26 



CHAPTER V 

The various other answers to the question " What 
was Paul's thorn in the flesh?" that have come to 
us from remote time to the present moment — for it 
is still an unsettled but ardently discussed subject — 
would seem to express the mental and physical char- 
acteristics of the person replying rather than any 
definite or satisfactory solution of the question asked. 
This makes the discussions doubly interesting because 
of their revelation of the characters of the various 
critics. 

Unimportant as the subject may appear at first 
sight, nevertheless, because of the unique character of 
the man and of the relation in which he stands toward 
the early propagation of Christianity, it has exercised 
and perplexed the ages, and has attracted the atten- 
tion and exhausted the energies of theologians from 
the beginning of the Christian day until now. 

Tertullian, who lived about the middle of the sec- 
ond century and was recognized by the great Cyprian 
as his master, although the disputatious Jerome puts 
him out of court, said it was " headache." He 
was the first of the Church Fathers to use the 
Latin language in writing on Bible themes, converting 
thus, as it were, the tongue of Horace, Virgil, and 

27 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

Cicero to Christianity. See Migne's " Patrologica 
Latina " ; also Bishop Kay's " Eccelesiastical History 
of the Second and Third Centuries, Illustrated from 
the Writings of Tertullian." 

The saintly, golden-mouthed Chrysostom, who 
lived in the fourth century, the frequently persecuted 
in those belligerent days — but ever devout — be- 
liever, equally celebrated for exegesis and eloquence, 
declares that it could not have been " headache," since 
God would not have permitted His " chosen servant 
thus to suffer." As if God did not " permit " Paul 
to suffer everything. To know what God did permit 
to happen to His " chosen servant," and how far from 
the mark was his sympathetic commentator Chrysos- 
tom, let us read the synopsis of his personal catas- 
trophies, from the pen of Paul himself, in one of the 
most startling bits of autobiography ever written. 
See II Cor. xi, 22-23, inclusive, where he writes : 

"... In labours more abundant, in stripes 
above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths 
oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes 
save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was 
I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a 
day I have been in the deep; In journey ings often, in 
perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine 
own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils 
in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the 
sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and 
pain fulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, 
in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides 

28 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

these things that are without, that which cometh upon 
me daily, the care of all the churches. ... In 
Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept 
the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous 
to apprehend me: And through a window in a bas- 
ket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands." 

Surely the Being who permitted this series of 
disasters to happen to a man " weighed down with 
infirmities " without them, and a number of others 
which in his modesty he did not mention, would 
hardly be likely to reverse the laws of the universe 
in order to prevent him from having a headache — 
a headache, which could easily be cured by the juice 
of a lemon, a cup of tea, or a few hours of sleep. 

We may, then, reject Peter Chrysologus's, other- 
wise Chrysostom's, solution also as inadequate. 

St. Jerome, the most learned and eloquent of the 
early Fathers, in the beginning of the fifth century 
translated all the Old Testament except the Psalms 
from the Hebrew to the Latin tongue, and his version 
of the Bible, commonly called " the Vulgate/' was the 
only one known for a thousand years to western 
Christianity. He evidently accepts the caricatures of 
the early romance writers and the archaic delinea- 
tions on sarcophagi and the scratchings on glass by 
glass decorators as true portraits, for he assures us 
that the thorn in the flesh was " shame because of his 
mean appearance." The phrase, " Paul the little, his 
bodily presence weak and speech contemptible," sug- 
gested, he thought, the grotesque misrepresentation 

29 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

of the cartoonists of the beginning of the era. He 
also says, Si apostolus . . . ob carnus aculseus 
incentiva vitiorum repremit corpus suum. 

Gregory the Great, with views as uncomplimentary 
to Paul as those of Jerome, gratuitously describes the 
Apostle after his " raptures " thus, Ad seipsum 
rediens contra carnus bellum laborat. 

The words of Estias are, Apostolorum per carnis 
stimulum indecare voluisse incentivum libidinis quod 
in came patiebatur. 

Many others, led perhaps by the stimulus carnis of 
the Vulgate, also take the phrase to mean " tempta- 
tions to incontinence." " Carnal longings," " sensual 
solicitations," " enticements to evil," are among the 
phrases variously used by the " carnal " school of 
thought. 

This was the interpretation, especially among the 
monks of the middle ages, who evidently were much 
afflicted in this way themselves. There was for cen- 
turies an almost unanimity of opinion in this direc- 
tion — concerning " the thorn in the flesh." 

St. Augustine's solution, as we have said, tends that 
way also, thus, Accepit stimulum carnis, quis nostrum 
hoc dicere auderet, nisi ille conHteri non erubesceret. 

Priamsius gives it as an alternative, for example, 
Alii dicunt titillatione carnis stimidatum. 

In mediaeval times, says Dr. Eadie, this was the 
current opinion of Salvini, Thomas Aquinas, Bede, 
Lydiat, Pallavicino, and many others, the latter claim- 
ing a sort of infallibility for it, as an instance of the 
vox populi vox Dei. Such a view is no longer tenable. 

30 



CHAPTER VI 

Bacon says, " It were better to have no opinion of 
God than such as is unworthy of him; for the one is 
unbelief, the other contumely." And Plutarch, touch- 
ing on the same subject, writes, " I would rather men 
should say there was no such person as Plutarch than 
that they should say there was one Plutarch who ate his 
children," alluding to Saturn. 

In the same spirit we decline to accept such a base 
theory of the Deity, in connection with Paul's " thorn 
in the flesh," as that suggested by a number of the 
saints, and by at least one reformer, — Calvin. The 
latter had not at the time shaken off the influence of 
the Christianity of the Middle Ages, — namely, that 
" God, in order to prove Paul, tempted him to unchas- 
tity," and that the saint's consequent inclination to con- 
cupiscence constituted " the thorn in the flesh, the min- 
ister of Satan sent to buffet him." The assumption is 
certainly not complimentary to Paul, nor is it justified 
by the facts. Like Malvolio about the soul, " we think 
nobly of God and in no way approve of such a theory." 

Could anybody to-day, even the most pronounced 
skeptic, entertain such a conception of the Creator of 
the universe ? — the Almighty, resorting to the instru- 
mentality of wanton allurement in order to humiliate 

31 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

his poor invalid servant, who surely had enough to con- 
tend with without that. It conveys the idea of some 
great monster of a man fishing for a frog with a red 
flannel bait, just to see whether he could distinguish it 
from beef, consequently " proving " him. 

But is it not harrowing, this constant admission of 
medieval saints in regard to themselves as well as some 
of their choicest spirits, that man is chained to sensu- 
ality, like a bear to a pole, to be released only by death ? 

We decline to accept this conclusion of theology in 
favor of that of the poet who says: " What a piece of 
work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in 
faculty! in form and moving how express and ad- 
mirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension 
how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon 
of animals ! " 

The trouble with most of the saints, — especially of 
the fantastic type of the past, with their bizarre moral- 
ity and arrogant malevolence toward those who did 
not agree with them, — was that they raised standards 
of conduct based upon their own past depravity rather 
than upon the righteousness and beneficence of God. 
For many of them were merely reformed rakes and 
libertines, who, as usual with such extreme sinners, 
after conversion, swung to the other extreme and set 
themselves up as examples of austere holiness. 

They can make the most innocent text of Scripture 
prove the utter depravity of women, perniciousness of 
man, or vindictiveness of God, just as the mood takes 
them. For the "orthodox" theologians of the long 

32 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

ago, as someone has said, had a way of manipulating 
Scripture to suit their preferences that was only short 
of genius. 

The reader will find an engrossingly interesting illus- 
tration of this variety of " illumination " in St. Je- 
rome's arguments in favor of the perpetual virginity 
of the mother of our Lord, and also of the very gross 
views about wedlock in general that were entertained 
by the clergy in the days of saints and martyrs. In- 
deed, their attitude toward matrimony and women had 
to be one of alarm in order to justify their claim of the 
superior dignity of celibacy as a state of grace. 

So opposed were they, the saints, to the divine com- 
mand " to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the 
earth " under the sacred compact of matrimony that 
they claimed they could get nearer to God by disobey- 
ing Him in this. So strong was their conviction in this 
particular that one of the early Fathers, St. Origen, 
went so far as to make himself mutilous by cutting off 
the virile parts, for fear of being tempted to sin in this 
direction. Another saint, whose name I have forgot- 
ten, but who was so holy that he performed miracles 
and had all sorts of heavenly honours, including celes- 
tial visions, shown to him, had such a horror of human 
peccability, or such a keen sense of chastity, that he de- 
nied himself the pleasure of even seeing his own 
mother, for fear that her being a woman might suggest 
to his highness the instinct of sexual sin ! It is impos- 
sible to-day to conceive of such perversions — no 
heavenly vision here as ethereal as the touch of an 

33 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

angel's wing in a dream. Yet this saint's biographer 
proudly cites this bit of refinement in morality as a sign 
of sanctity! 

We may, therefore, reject all theories of such men 
about Paul's thorn in the flesh as lacking in evidence, 
and in the sanity of his judges. 



34 



CHAPTER VII 

It is strange how frequently invalids attain the sum- 
mit of beneficent endeavor, while the robust dawdle 
around its base. 

We have a friend, incurably out of health, yet every 
renewed spell of additional illness is but an incentive 
to greater activity. While her whole life has been a 
benefaction, it has been made doubly so by sickness, as 
it often is with great souls, when night brings out the 
stars. She does the work of at least three persons, and 
despite her physical hindrances there never lived a 
woman more capable of doing so many difficult things 
well. 

Show me a person of immortal achievement, and, 
as a rule, I'll show you a man or woman with some 
physical handicap that has been but a spur to struggle. 
Much of the best work of the world, as we have said, 
is done by semi-invalids, as if it were only when real- 
izing the limitations and shortness of life that capacity 
puts forth invincible effort. Besides, health is not 
always even a good rapier while invalidism is often a 
two-edged sword. 

Who does not know of once belligerent families and 
friends re-united by some crippling disability on the 
part of one of them — the touch of nature that makes 

35 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

the whole world kin — and former enemies become not 
only kin but kind ? Blessed Invalidism ! how it unites 
families, accomplishes difficulties, reconciles and con- 
ciliates enemies, rides over otherwise impassable bar- 
riers and brings the incongruous and rebellious into 
sympathy and union ! 

It may to some extent have been thus with Paul. It 
is not true that only when you laugh the world laughs 
with you and that when you weep you weep alone. 
His " thorn in the flesh " may have helped him to a 
closer intimacy with his fellows, and may have stimu- 
lated his genius for friendship : as witness, — Silas, 
Barnabas, Timothy, Luke, Aquila, Priscilla, Apollo, 
and so many others known to Pauline experts. 

Yearner for universal brotherhood that he was, how 
he longed for companionship! Yet his first aim was 
to win, if possible, all men to Christ, and in order to do 
this he was willing that he himself might be a cast- 
away. But his was not a nature that delighted in soli- 
tude nor spiritual isolation, like a hermit in the trunk 
of a tree, but he preferred fellowship, industry, and the 
busy haunts of men. His capacity for work, with a 
fortitude never shaken by reverses, always acting with 
the courage of his convictions, may have been induced 
by his perplexing illness. Although small of stature, 
like Alexander and Napoleon, and a perpetual sufferer, 
he became " the greatest of the apostles." 

His attachment to all sorts of well-disposed persons, 
notwithstanding his " jealousy about the things of 
God," may have been due to the allurement of impedi- 

36 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

menta — for there has always been enough of the 
knight errant in man to be touched by a feeling of fel- 
low infirmity — and not so much to his frequently ex- 
hibited affability. For he was surely too much of a 
genius to be good-natured all the time, as placidly 
simpering* as a bronze Buddha on a lotus pedestal. 
The great never are, except in marble or brass. 

Before his regeneration, while still in his youth, 
when religious zeal is sometimes absent, he consented 
to the death of Stephen and exhibited the stern spirit 
of the Pharisee, who compassed sea and earth to make 
one proselyte, proving that he was as strong then as 
afterward. " The zeal for God," which had made him 
a persecutor, merely changed its direction after his con- 
version, but not its force. 

After conversion he seems to have become a model 
of affability and kindness. Many instances of this are 
given in the epistles, — for example, the well-bred con- 
ciliatory exordiums of his speeches; his friendly 
salutations and remembrances, with their sympathetic 
particularities always in the best taste and im- 
plying the finest breeding; his continuous practice 
of the nicest amenities. Fine sentiments are uncon- 
sciously scattered through his writings. He became all 
things unto all men, like the gentleman he was, accom- 
modating himself as far as the sense of duty would 
permit to the prejudices of men. His pride in useful 
work " that he might not be a burden to the brethren " ; 
his breaking away from the old conventions, as grow- 
ing men are apt to do, but without bitterness ; his lib- 

37 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

erally extending the benefit of his experience to aliens 
— so unlike his nation at that time — all show a gen- 
erous spirit and a splendid example and reprimand to 
that narrow and pretentious Christianity that arrogates 
to itself alone the custody of conscience and the mon- 
opoly of graces, and that would coerce all men into 
an acceptance of one stupidly uniform formula of 
faith, even in its details, as if the rainbow of salvation 
had but one hue. 



38 



CHAPTER VIII 

Paul's defect, whatever it was, — and we think we 
have solved its mystery, — tormented him intensely at 
intervals, but remained with him in a lighter form all 
the time. 

Neither Celsus, who about 150 A. D. wrote against 
him and the new faith the first polemic of moment, a 
work only part of which has survived in the fragment 
quoted by Origen in his Contra Celsiim, nor Neitzsche 
in the present, his most penetrating opponent, accuse 
him of epilepsy; yet they both knew him to be subject 
to " visions," " trances," " raptures," and other nervous 
phenomena, as epileptics sometimes are. It was in a 
vision that he saw " the son of God in a light out of 
heaven " on the way to Damascus ; and at Troas he 
saw in a vision the man from Macedonia who cried, 
" Come over and help us." 

He was subject, too, to " raptures," states that would 
seem different from those named " visions " when he 
saw things invisible to others. " Hallucinations " they 
would be called to-day, — phenomena known now to 
be usually due to disease of the retina. 

He went to Jerusalem, he tells us, by " revelation " 
and " vision." At times he uses the words " revela- 

39 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

tion " and " vision " interchangeably. Again, " he was 
caught up to the third heaven and into Paradise," 
where he " heard unspeakable words not lawful for a 
man to utter." 

Thus he was a man of unique spiritual insight, one 
of those high-strung personalities, who see when others 
only feel, and feel so intensely that they see. 

In the vision of the conversion, although his com- 
panions heard in but a confused way what he heard, yet 
they did not see what he saw, so that the veil between 
the visible and invisible must have been more 
diaphanous to him than to most men. He is a difficult 
character to comprehend in his complex entirety, as 
the diamond of his individuality had so many facets, 
reflecting in so many directions. Things often 
changed in his career with the celerity of a transforma- 
tion scene in a theater. 

His ascribed physical defects, like those of ^Esop and 
Socrates, you accept as a part of him, and you would 
not exchange his inflamed eyes, except to make them 
better; nor would you exchange his face of suffering 
and his general insignificance of appearance for the 
features and form of an Adonis. It is the soul-suffer- 
ing but hopeful element in him that appeals to you, and 
you do not require the aid of preferential church tra- 
dition that, while it gives Peter the rustic features of a 
peasant, endows our heroic saint with the gracefully 
" contemplative head of a Greek philosopher." He 
does not need it. 

He might have been an epileptic without diminishing 

40 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

his claim to greatness. Many traits ascribed to such 
patients seem to have been a part of his make-up. 

On casual acquaintance you are apt to believe with 
Frothingham that " he was anthropomorphic to an 
amazing degree, so self -centered and narrow in his 
morality," so anxious, like the saints of the Middle 
Ages, to save his own soul. See " Dialogues of Greg- 
ory, surnamed the Great," where believers are com- 
mended for giving away all they have on earth that 
they might receive the more in Heaven. This, the 
selfish theory and practice of the church through the 
ages, makes virtue not its own exceeding great reward, 
but merely an attempt to secure by bribery celestial 
happiness. 

Or you may believe with Schlechter that he 
was vain, overbearing, arrogant, wrong in his de- 
ductions, contracted in his views of conduct, lacking in 
charity, a woman-hater, and the like. But when you 
know him better, when you read him in the orthodox 
way, with prayer, — and why should we not have a 
grace before Paul as well as before meat? As Charles 
Lamb said about Milton, he is revealed to you as one 
of the anointed, uniting in himself the finest qualities 
of mind and heart. Of all the great men of the re- 
ligious past none needed canonization less than St. 
Paul. 

It was he, a Jew, and such a Jew, that emancipated 
Christianity from its Jewish form — " not that he had 
aught to accuse his nation of " — and that alone among 
the apostles, speaking after the manner of men, carried 

41 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

out the ideas of Jesus, and made of His religion a gos- 
pel for all mankind. He was, we hazard the opinion, 
the founder of liberal Christianity, believing that there 
were many members but one body. He was so hum- 
ble, too, and notwithstanding his fine endowments he 
coined a word to express his sense of his own insignifi- 
cance. 

Yet his courage was limitless, When he thought 
himself under sentence of death at Rome and about to 
be executed, instead of regret, fear, or vain protesta- 
tion, he rather exultantly exclaimed, " I have fought a 
good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the 
faith." As if that was, and is, the all in all. On 
another occasion he said, " I am willing not only to be 
bound, but to die also at Jerusalem, for the name of 
the Lord Jesus." This, by a man who had undergone 
every indignity and knew what a Roman or Hebrew 
death by violence was, speaks volumes for his courage. 

The Jews and Christians in Rome, whose enmity 
toward one another became extremely violent, at last 
reciprocally accused one another of setting the city on 
fire. Both were freely burned as incendiaries, as may 
be seen from the " Letters of Paul to Seneca " and 
from " Seneca's Letters to Paul," a correspondence 
that is considered authentic by St. Jerome, who quotes 
passages from it. St. Augustine also accepts the recip- 
rocal letters as authentic, as may be seen by his one 
hundred and fifty-third letter to the Macedonians. 
Thus St. Paul, through the instrumentality of the un- 
speakable Nero, was found guilty of instigating and 

42 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

inciting the people to the burning of the city, and was 
sentenced, in consequence, to death. Was there ever 
such a perversion of judgment! 

Instead of being crucified head downward, like Peter, 
on account of his Roman citizenship he was more hon- 
orably beheaded. 

Cicero, In V err em, says, " It was accounted a 
daring misdemeanor to bind, a wicked crime to 
scourge, a Roman citizen." Yet we are told that Paul 
during a good part of his residence in Rome was bound 
to a soldier. By this, however, may only be meant 
handcuffing. He was also scourged, but that was done 
perhaps independently by the Jews themselves, despite 
their being subjects of Rome and under Roman law. 
You may remember in the trial of Christ they said to 
Pilate, " We have a law, and by our law he should die." 

Paul was buried in Via Ostiensis, about two miles 
from the city on the way as you pass the pyramid of 
Caius Sestius, near the sight of the Protestant ceme- 
tery, that sacred spot, " so beautiful," Shelley said, 
" that it put a person in love with death." About 
three hundred years after his martyrdom Pope Sylves- 
ter built a stately church over his grave, adorned with 
two hundred marble columns and beautified with ex- 
quisite workmanship. 

Thus, no matter how courageously we fight the bat- 
tle of life, pessimism says, we are sure to be defeated 
at the end. 

On the surface it sometimes seems so. But are we? 



43 



CHAPTER IX 

Paul's influence penetrates the life of humanity. 
Someone has said that like pygmies we grope around 
his massive thought, and build our little systems like 
ladders against his stature and our heresies like cob- 
webs across the pathway of his power. 

Seeing the Lord in person was a necessary qualifica- 
tion for apostleship. If the vision of the conversion 
was merely an " hallucination of epilepsy," then Paul 
was not an apostle and his entire theory of conduct and 
scheme of salvation was based upon a false foundation. 
But he was not an epileptic. He could not have been 
without its having become a matter of universal proc- 
lamation. We know that the thorn in the flesh was 
not that, and we know, too, that Paul himself claims 
to have seen the Crucified one. 

Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and Anselm go 
farther than Paul himself who said he saw the Lord 
that is Jesus, and unitedly declare that he actually 
saw God, — the Divine Essence, as they express it, — in 
this vision on the way to Damascus and also to Jeru- 
salem. They say this, notwithstanding the fact that 
Scripture says that " no man can see God and live." 

A wandering Jew and a chronic invalid, almost per- 
petually suffering pain, he has become the best known 

44 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

man of the world, and his " Letters " are the most read 
and the most widely circulated literature. Who is 
there who has not heard of Paul's epistles, who has not 
been thrilled by the pean of triumph over mortality, 
" O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy 
victory? " 

With all his handicaps he was the greatest preacher, 
logician, metaphysician, of his time, and like Luther he 
was the most aggressive of reformers. No amount of 
calumny could stop him and he too had his vilifiers. 
To the epicurean, who denied a future life and believed 
the supreme good to consist of present pleasure, he 
offered " the peace that passeth understanding " ; to the 
stoics, the ancient Pantheists and fatalists, who made 
man his own master, he preached self-renunciation and 
reliance on a personal Saviour, — ■ Jesus. 

Of the various portraits of the Apostle familiar to 
us, to mention but a few, which, we ask, may approach 
nearest the man? 

Is it the one that is exhibited in the archaic decora- 
tions of incinerary urns and the like of the immediate 
century after his exit as a martyr, which were found 
in the catacombs and are now, with the medallion of 
Peter and Paul from the cemetery of Domatelli, de- 
posited in the Vatican library? Or is it that of the 
caricaturists of a supposed subsequent period, the in- 
spiration of which was evidently legendary? The lat^ 
ter represents him as a cretin, or as a chronic dyspeptic 
— carrying out the theory of appendicitis — with all a 
cretin's stigmata, according to Lombroso. The early 

45 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

Christian " artists " by no means flattered their heroes 
by representing them as demi-gods. 

Or shall we take the picture reverently made of him 
by " the evangelist of art," Albrecht Diirer, who re- 
garded unadorned nature, — that is, truth, — the great- 
est beauty? He presents Paul as a sad, sturdy, bald- 
headed, stooped, contemplative man, bearing the burden 
of many sorrows, and like his Master, " having no 
beauty that you could desire him, a man of sorrow 
and acquainted with grief." 

Or shall it be the indignation-producing portrait by 
Hogarth in the picture entitled, " Paul Preaching Be- 
fore Felix " ? In it the Chief of the Apostles is repre- 
sented with unnecessarily large feet, inflamed joints, 
short legs, long body, with ill-fitting garments, with di- 
shevelled hair, and with a Michael Angelo nose. This 
picture looks more like one of the illustrations of 
" Hudibras " gone astray than like anything that could 
by any possibility appeal to the beauty-loving Atheni- 
ans as a person to be mistaken for a god, or one that 
would elicit the impulse of sacrifice. The apostle him- 
self, if he had looked like Hogarth's picture, and had 
had a sense of humour, which he does not seem to have 
had, would not only have been surprised but would 
have laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation, — 
Paul the Little ! And a Jew, at that, in the role of a 
Greek god ! 

It has been said by certain sympathetic critics that 
" Hogarth had a deep insight into the characteristics of 
his times and country." But it is as sure, despite 

4 6 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

Thackeray and Lamb, that England had no more 
people looking like the people of Hogarth's picture — 
some of his painted portraits excepted — than Paul 
and his contemporaries delineated by the same artist 
looked like the people of Athens. 

Mrs. Jamison, in " Sacred and Legendary Art," 
writing of the pictures of Paul and Peter by the old 
masters as reflecting the traditions of the church, speaks 
of " the elegantly contemplative head of Paul, who 
looks like a Greek philosopher as contrasted with the 
sturdy dignity and broad rustic features of Peter." 

Raphael's St. Paul shows the diminutive saint, after 
the delivery of his speech to the philosophers, as a 
stately Apollo, with a Roman toga, on the steps of an 
impossible Parthenon. Raphael never was in Greece, 
so such anachronisms are to be expected. This pic- 
ture, although dignified and pleasing, is too romantic 
for modern taste. 

After all, and in keeping too with the better knowl- 
edge of the present, it remained for an English artist, 
Sir Edward Poynter, to give us as far as imagination 
based on facts can, a portrait of the Apostle to the 
Gentiles that appeals to us as most fit. In his picture- 
entitled " The Stoning of Stephen," the future saint is 
represented as " the young man whose name was Saul, 
at whose feet the witnesses laid down their clothes." 
This and the " St. Paul " painted subsequently by 
Poynter satisfy and fill up the measure of imagination 
in the matter of looks. 

Still it is not any man's conception of the apostle's 

47 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

appearance, — perhaps after all the word-picture in the 
" Romance of Thecla " may be nearest the truth, — 
but a knowledge of what he was in himself, and what 
he did for humanity, that expresses him best. So that 
we may say of all his pictures what Ben Jonson said 
of the picture of Shakespeare by Droshaut that embel- 
lished the first folio edition of the poet's works, " Look 
not upon the picture but the book." 



4 8 



CHAPTER X 

Let us again enumerate the objections to the theory 
that the thorn in the flesh was carnal longing. 

First. Such a temptation could not have been sent 
by God as a means of humbling Paul, as he says the 
thorn in the flesh was. " Lest I be exalted above 
measure . . . there was given to me a thorn in 
the flesh." Such a conception of the Almighty, exer- 
cising the allurements of a wanton to entice a man to 
sin in order to humiliate him, is out of date. The 
anthropomorphic views common to the monks of the 
middle ages are to-day non-admissible. The idea of 
the Maker of the Universe as a bogie man, or master 
of revelry in the comedy or tragedy of life, is no 
longer tenable. 

Second. The apostle gloried in his infirmity. He 
would not, could not, have gloried in such an inclina- 
tion, but would rather have been ashamed of it. 

Third. It would not have exposed him to scorn 
and aversion, as he felt " the thorn " did, as the 
struggle would have been within, invisible, and known 
only to himself. 

Fourth. He emphatically declares that he was free 
from such temptations. Referring to incontinence 
and marriage, he writes, " I would that all men were 

49 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

even as I." I Cor. vi \J. Even before his conversion 
he writes that he " was righteous according to the 
law." 

It is contrary, too, to our conception of the dig- 
nity of the chief of the apostles to think of him as 
" glorying/' like a pagan, in such temptation to any 
of the grobian things of sense. Thus we must reject 
the " carnal " interpretation of the thorn in toto. 

Luther, with the ardor of his perfervid nature, 
thought more nobly of Paul. He is positive that the 
affliction was not any bodily malady or evil inclina- 
tion, but " spiritual trials " rather, — that is to say, 
" Faintheartedness ; temptations to despair ; blas- 
phemous suggestions of the devil, filling his sensitive 
soul with sorrow." He himself had had such experi- 
ence with the Prince of Darkness. The reader will 
remember that on a certain occasion he literally threw 
an inkstand at his Majesty's head as he subsequently 
threw the whole energy of his nature, as he thought, 
at the same target, the Pope. 

The Reformers generally accepted Luther's solu- 
tion of the subject, interpreting the affliction that 
" buffeted " the apostle as spiritual rather than carnal 
temptation. 

Yet there are objections, too, to this theory as not 
complying with all the conditions. Paul referred to 
the criticism of himself and his writings by certain 
Corinthian enemies, in which occurs the phrase : ^ 6e 
napouola zoo odyfiaroQ d<rdev?jz, a phrase referring, as 
the reader J3aay^$e%- not to stature, but rather to the 



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WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

impression of sickness, frailty, delicacy, and invalid- 
ism, which his appearance indicated. 

In writing to the Thessalonians, he says that he 
" would have come to them sooner but that Satan 
hindered him," meaning, it has been assumed, one of 
his attacks. On another occasion so profound was 
his sickness that he " despaired even of life." It 
was these attacks that he alluded to as " a thorn in the 
flesh," and their causing him to despair even of life 
would seem to refute Luther's theory too that the 
thorn was merely a figure of speech for solicitations 
of the foul fiend not to sensuality, but to doubt, de- 
spair, and denying God. 

Resisting temptation does not bring men to death's 
door, nor to despair of life, in this physical manner; 
rather, to the contrary, it gives more vigor, greater 
vitality and recoil. When the devil, discomfited, 
leaves a man, angels minister unto him. 

Dr. Jowett, with characteristic bluntness, calls Paul 
" a poor decrepit creature suffering from palsy," and 
Luther, to quote him again, sums up all he has learned 
of Paul's physical condition by universal reading in 
the following words : "Ein armes dilrres m'dnnlein wie 
magister Philippus" meaning Melanchthon, who was 
a semi-invalid, — if a man can make a diagnosis from 
a portrait, — suffering from indigestion all his days. 

The vast number of monks and celibates of various 
kinds, who in the dark ages sought to secure heaven, 
avoided responsibility or escaped temptation by flying 
into solitude. Those who have put their opinions 

51 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

upon record at all, with but few exceptions, generally 
declare Paul's difficulty, — the thorn in the flesh, — to 
— have been " temptations to incontinence." 

Even St. Augustine — see " The Confessions " — 
thought thus, and Gregory the Great goes so far as to 
describe the apostle after his " Raptures " as follows, — ■ 
ad seipsum rediens contra carnus bellum laborat. 
Cardinal Hugo, the thirteenth century Dominican, 
author of the Correctorum Biblice Sorbonicum, like 
most of his fellow monastics, seems to have given cre- 
dence to the story about Paul and the " infatuated " 
Thecla, and is specific enough even to refer the time of 
the " temptation " to his experience with this perhaps 
legendary maiden, as recorded in the " Acta Apostolo- 
rum Apocrypha." 

In this interesting romance of the first century of the 
Christian era, which is as full of marvels and adven- 
tures as Malory's " La Morte D' Arthur," " The Little 
Flowers of St. Francis," or " The Lives of the Saints," 
Paul and Thecla are the two important characters. 

According to the story, this romantic girl abandons 
her young, handsome, and wealthy fiance in favor of 
the middle-aged Paul. And the young lady's mother, 
a dignified and serious matron, among other lamenta- 
tions, complains of her daughter as so carried away by 
the serious personality and eloquent preaching of the 
saint that " she would sit for hours, listening with rapt 
attention to his discourses, as fixed to her place as a 
cobweb to a window." Besides, forgetting her high 

52 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

social position, responsibility, and obligations as a 
betrothed wife, she followed him from place to place 
" disguised in male attire." 

It is in connection with this absolutely first and, from 
a literary standpoint, most interesting extravaganza, 
we might call it, of the new faith — so old that Tertul- 
lian who wrote in the beginning of the second century 
refers to it — that we find the first description of Paul's 
personal appearance, and stranger still it corresponds 
in a quite startling way with the intimations of 
Scripture, the hints of contemporary caricaturists, the 
descriptions of Roman and Greek satirists, and of 
other anti-Christian writers of the early centuries. 

The story, beginning in Antioch, is laid in various 
places, and in connection with an itineracy curiously 
differing from that of the Acts. It commences by tell- 
ing of one Onesiphorus, evidently a convert, who' " did 
not know Paul in the flesh, only in the spirit," and who, 
being anxious to see him, had received a personal de- 
scription of him from a mutual friend named Titus, 
perhaps Titus of Paul's letters, telling him, too, of 
Paul's probable location at the time. 

" And as Onesiphorus stood," the narrative relates, 
" by the way where the roads met, going to Lystra, as 
he dallied waiting and watching for Paul. . . . ac- 
cording to the marks which Titus had given him, his 
vigilance was rewarded by a vision of his approach. 

" And he saw Paul coming, and in his stature he was 
a man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and 

53 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were pro- 
jecting, or far apart, and he had large eyes and his eye- 
brows met, and his nose was somewhat long, and his 
personality full of grace and mercy; at one time he 
seemed like a man, and at another time like an angel." 

This full length, somewhat Flemish, portrait, if the 
reader will excuse the anachronism, by certainly the 
very first word-portrait painter of the Christian era, 
whoever he was, and emerging after the concealment 
of centuries from the pen of the oldest of old masters, 
into the light of modern day, seems to have been 
limned by some Albrecht Diirer of an eye-witness. 
And it claims to have been and probably was written in 
the graphic words that we have translated, by a man 
who had personally observed the gait, studied the con- 
tour, and looked into the living features of the Great 
Apostle, face to face. 

Thecla is not described, except by conduct. But it is 
easy to imagine her a heroine of the ".people of the 
way," as beautiful as one of her native goddesses or 
temples, full of high resolve, and as daring in duty as a 
saint. In consequence of her having accepted the 
teachings of Paul, and for that reason having refused 
to marry her noble fiance, she was on various occasions 
sentenced to various modes of death, after the custom 
of the times, when simple death was by no means the 
worst punishment to which the guilty or suspected were 
subjected. 

At Iconium, Alexander, the chief magistrate, was 
exhibiting spectacles to the city in celebration of some 

54 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

victory, when, as a special attraction, he sentenced 
Thecla " to be cast to the beasts," just by way of add- 
ing variety to a Roman or Greek holiday. She begged 
merely that, contrary to the horrible practice of the 
times, she should be kept inviolate until after the execu- 
tion; a request that, because of her royal connection, — 
she was allied to the house of Caesar, — was complied 
with. 

" When the day of the spectacle came and the multi- 
tude were gathered together in the circus to enjoy their 
favorite amusement, human slaughter, when let loose, 
the animals, instead of attacking and almost devouring 
alive their prey, as was to> be expected, fawned upon 
her, and licked her hands; and the ravenous leopards 
and lions, kept long without food, so that they might 
rend their victims with greater ferocity, first lay down 
at her feet, as if apologizing for their presence, and 
then, to the wonder of the great audience, in a state of 
remorse, as it would seem, devoured one another, when 
the excited and astonished people became clamorous 
for Thecla' s release." 

This shows that the legends of the middle ages and 
the marvels of the lives of the saints are of earlier 
origin than might have been imagined. 

On another occasion our heroine was doomed to be 
torn asunder by being bound with strong bands to bulls, 
a limb to each, a favorite diversion in those savage days 
of blunted feeling and coarse nerves. After the sacri- 
fice had been securely fastened in situ the animals were 
excited to fury by burning brands that were driven by 

55 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

force into their sides. Instead of infuriating the ani- 
imals, however, " the brands but burned asunder the 
bands that bound her, when she was again set free." 

Later, after another miraculous escape from martyr- 
dom by fire, she said to Paul : " I will cut off my hair 
and follow thee." And " Paul took her by the hand and 
they entered into Jerusalem." This is not their usual 
mode of locomotion, for, as far as we are led to believe, 
they travel rather on the wings of invisibility, like the 
people in Persian romances, and we find them in many 
places, far apart, without knowing how they got 
there. 

There are a directness of delineation and an absence 
of redundancy of words or description about the 
various episodes of the narrative, suggestive of the 
ancient ballad, and indicating that the mystic tales of 
the dark ages are, after all, of Greek and pagan origin, 
and that there is nothing very new, even in Hans An- 
dersen or the brothers Grimm. 

There are many such adventures recorded in the 
Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha. In them the saint al- 
ways acts with consideration and dignity, without, to 
the unsophisticated, the slightest intimation of com- 
promise. And the young lady, a rare specimen of 
combined conviction, impressibility, and courage, is 
treated by the unknown author, who seems to have 
had no doubt of the truthfulness of his story, as if 
she were a member of his own family; nay, more, as 
if she were far above him, and as if he were but a mere 
scribe recording acts in the life of a saint. 

56 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

In the relation of another hazardous incident resort 
is made to the now hoary ruse of dressing his heroine 
in men's clothes, in order that she might follow her 
master and the object of her gratitude without inter- 
rupting annoyance. And this, too, is done with a deli- 
cacy, under the circumstances, as delightful as the 
similar treatment of Rosalind by Shakespeare, in con- 
nection with a more worldly attachment. 

After another hairbreadth escape from another 
horrible death sentence, she was, we are told, " received 
into the house of Queen Tryphcena, who was of the 
lineage of the Emperor." There she remained eight 
days teaching the queen the commandments of God, 
after which she sallied out again to find her Co- 
religionist and Master who was then said to be in 
Myra. Her departure from the palace was made in 
the attire of a young man, and with a great retinue 
of servants, as becoming the dignity of her royal 
hostess. And after many mysterious deliverances 
" the disciple finds the master instructing his auditors 
in righteousness." " She stood beside him, and when 
Paul saw her, he was astonished," — as he well might 
be. 

Another exhibition of incredible attachment repre- 
sents her as an infatuated listener to one of Paul's 
discourses, which lasted " eight " mortal hours, with- 
out interruption or intermission, during which pro- 
tracted period " the eyes of the novice were immova- 
bly riveted to the speaker and her attention was with- 
out abatement." Could devotion go farther? 

57 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

The denouement of this singular biographical 
romance is as na'ive and to the point as an ancient 
parchment. Without circumlocution, or flourish of 
trumpet, or other irrelevant embellishment, it simply 
concludes in the words: 

" And she lay down to sleep in a quiet resting place, 
and thus ends the history of the holy Thecla, the dis- 
ciple of the Apostle Paul. May her prayers help us 
in both worlds. Amen." 

This story was written perhaps near the end of the 
first Christian century, or it may have been current 
shortly after the martyrdom of Paul, or toward the 
end of his life. At least, as before mentioned, it was 
written early enough for Tertullian, who wrote in the 
beginning of the second century, to refer to it, since 
which time the world has almost allowed it to be for- 
gotten. 

Even admitting the account that I have somewhat 
loosely paraphrased to be a true narrative, allowing for 
the propensity on the part of the wonder-writers of 
the new faith to exaggeration, surely there is nothing 
either in what it tells or suggests that is compromising 
to any of the dramatis personam. And the individual 
now would have to be indelicate indeed to read into 
such an artless recital anything so incongruous as pro- 
fane love, accompanied, too, with its coarse elements, 
likened unto " a thorn in the flesh." It is unthinkable 
that such a condition existed between an unsophisti- 
cated proselyte and a middle-aged man with a zeal for 

58 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

souls, and living every moment, as he believed, under 
the watchful eye of an omnipresent God. 

This hypothesis, then, which was accepted chiefly 
by the monks and which almost disappeared with the 
Reformation, surely goes to the very verge of the 
unpermissible, and must also be denied. There seems 
to be an entire misconception of the character of Paul 
in all such assumptions by the self -tortured and de- 
luded celibates of a now obsolete and no longer needed 
vocation. 

Ecclesiastical and indeed all other bachelors, be- 
cause perhaps of their unfortunate experience or in- 
experience, are apt to run into extremes in conjectures 
about the intimacies and friendly intercourses of men 
and women. They are too prone to see in every bud 
a worm, in every falling leaf an officer. 

This theory of profane love between Paul and Thecla 
was received for many centuries. It was due perhaps 
to the general ribaldry of the old times, when virtue 
was not considered possible, except behind monastery 
walls, and under the protection of a cowl, and when 
so coarse were even some of the clergy that they per- 
mitted on more than one occasion great churches to 
be decorated with stone statuary so shockingly im- 
modest that the decorum of modern times demanded 
its removal. 

This early romance, then, if not having its founda- 
tion in fact, was likely invented — at least its incidents 
— by some ingenious believer, with an eye for the mar- 

59 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

velous and picturesque that distinguished him from the 
mass of early realistic converts. 

Instead of their being evil in the story, to the con- 
trary it represents the teacher and his perhaps impressi- 
ble pupil as living in a spiritual atmosphere, exalted 
so far above the things of sense that to the modern 
mind, with our better way of regarding such intimacies, 
there is no place in it for misconception. So that we 
may also reject Cardinal Hugo's solution of the prob- 
lem of the thorn in the flesh as shooting: short or far 
of the mark, and rather say with Luther, " Ah, no, 
dear Paul, it was no such experience as this that af- 
flicted thee." 



60 



CHAPTER XI 

Supplementing the Church Fathers, old and new, 
and the Reformers and their successors, John Brown, 
M. D., of Edinburgh, who wrote about " Rab and 
His Friends," and " Marjorie Fleming," has also, in 
" Horae Subsecivae," a series of miscellaneous es- 
says, presented us with the literary results of the 
leisure hours of a professional man. 

In a chapter in this volume entitled " St. Paul's 
Thorn in the Flesh: What was it?" to which our at- 
tention has been drawn by our accomplished friend 
Dr. Carr, professor of English Literature in Lincoln 
University, we are presented with a brand-new theory 
about Paul's infirmity. 

The article referred to, which was written by a 
relative of Dr. Brown's, and which attracted the at- 
tention of Thackeray, assures us that the saint's 
handicap was chronic ophthalmia. So ingeniously 
has he presented his case that his theory has gotten 
into current theologic thought, and has had the honor 
of being mentioned by many commentators. This 
disease, the author tells us, was probably caused by 
" the brilliant light of the conversion, which exceeded 
the brightness of the sun," and later had something 
to do with the temporary blindness that left him so 

61 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

suddenly in the home of Ananias. He also thinks 
that bearing upon the same subject are Paul's own 
words when, writing to the Church of Corinth, he 
says : " I bear you record that, if it had been possi- 
ble, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and 
have given them to me," — his own probably being 
not of the best. 

The paper is interesting and ingenious; and al- 
though the theory of chronic ophthalmia is now rec- 
ognized as one of the bare possibilities, it is not at all 
convincing. Indeed, the arguments are rather irrele- 
vant than conclusive. Yet it is more than probable 
that Paul had that disease of the eyes, — since vari- 
ously called " Egyptian ophthalmia," " chronic oph- 
thalmia," " granulated lids," " trachoma," — that was 
so prevalent in the East during his time. It was 
known to ancient medicine as trachoma. Subse- 
quently it became known, when Napoleon's soldiers, 
after the battle of the Pyramids, had brought it into 
France, as Egyptian ophthalmia, and it did more to 
defeat the little Corporal than all the bayonets of the 
enemy. 

Five thousand of Abercrombie's soldiers too re- 
turned afflicted with the same distemper, caught in 
the Orient. It is still the eye plague of Egypt, and 
at present it is causing our people much alarm because 
of its being brought here from the south of Italy and 
from Ireland. 

The medallion of Peter and Paul from the ceme- 
tery of Domatella, supposed to have been by a con- 

62 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

temporary, represents him with diseased eyes, — 
swollen lids. 

If such were the case, it is curious to consider that 
in all probability, because of prohibitive legislation, 
due to the infectiousness, contagiousness, and almost 
incurability of the disease, which almost always ends 
in blindness, Paul would not be allowed to land in 
the United States to-day, as a missionary or in any 
capacity. 

Yet it does not follow that his chronic ophthalmia 

— and he probably was thus afflicted — was the 
" thorn in the flesh." This disease does not corre- 
spond with the Scriptural description of his handicap 

— it does not fill the conditions : the chronic ophthal- 
mia of the East, trachoma, was progressive, contin- 
uous, constant; the thorn in the flesh was periodic, 
occurring at irregular intervals, and when least ex- 
pected its onsets were so severe that it made labor, 
for the time, impossible. 

The man cured of blindness by the Great Physician 
was likely a victim of trachoma. 



63 



CHAPTER XII 

Bartholomy and Wedel, two distinguished exposi- 
tors, are united in thinking Paul's trouble hypochondri- 
acal melancholy. Bartoli said it was hemorrhoids. 
Thomas Aquinas somewhere gives as an opinion, not 
his own, however, that it was morbus Iliacus sed vi- 
cerum dolor. Gregory of Nazianzus at the end of his 
twentieth oration solemnly appeals to his departed 
brother, — that is, Paul, — to arrest some malady in 
him, either of the kidneys or joints that he calls by 
Paul's words, and Baxter of " The Saint's Everlasting 
Rest," that pleasant memory, though solemn inspira- 
tion of our unsophisticated young manhood, calls it, 
" stone," his own particular affliction, which the curi- 
ous reader may still see in a case in the British Mu- 
seum. And Ewald, Holstein, and Ziegler, three re- 
doubtable German defenders of the Faith, positively 
declare it to be " fallende sucht." Prof. Lightfoot 
coincides with them and Dr. John Eddie, whose great 
commentary on " The Greek of the Epistle to the 
Galatians " says this opinion has several points in its 
favor. 

Basil, taking three chances where others only took 
one, thought it something like the affliction of the 
impotent man cured at Bethesda, the disease that 
tried the patience of the man in the land of Oz whose 

6 4 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

name was Job, or the malady of the ulcerous beggar 
Lazarus, who in the parable died, and was promptly 
carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. 

Gregory of Nazianzus conjectured it to have been 
a disease of both the kidneys and joints, as he suffered 
that way himself. 

Sir William Ramsay, author of " Paul the Trav- 
eler," " Luke the Beloved Physician," " The Ruined 
Cities of Asia Minor," and other luminous books 
about Paul and his times, scouts the ophthalmia as- 
sumption and assures us that the saint's ailment was 
" malaria." In confirmation of his theory that Paul's 
affliction was malaria, he offers among other things 
the fact that its victim was first seen in a Galatian 
village, " lying in the mud on the shady side of a 
wall, for two hours, shaking like an aspen leaf; in 
fact, suffering from a paroxysm of fever and ague." 

We do not know Dr. Ramsay's authority for this 
assertion. 

We know now why malaria is not likely to have 
lasted for fourteen years, with Paul's migration from 
place to place. Besides, this theory does not in other 
ways correspond with his own description. While 
he may have suffered from malaria, yet, under the 
circumstances, he hardly could have done so for the 
whole period of his complaining, — a period of from 
fourteen to sixteen years, — without others of his 
companions similarly suffering. Malaria is now said 
to be " carried," so that his disease, as it would seem, 
was peculiar to him. 

65 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

We know that malaria, independent of the mos- 
quito, is communicated as typhoid fever is, so* that if 
it was the thorn in the flesh, he would hardly have 
been the only one to have it. Again, Paul's descrip- 
tion of his disorder and the text-book description of 
intermittent fever present entirely different physiog- 
nomies. Furthermore, it could not have been fever 
and ague without its victim's activity being more 
frequently suspended by its paroxysms, which occur 
at short intervals and with the irregularity of a 
French clock. 

Three forms of ague have been known almost from 
the beginning of recorded time: the Quotidian, with 
the chill and fever recurring every twenty- four hours ; 
the Tertian, every forty-eight hours, and the Quartan, 
with the pyrexia and chill returning like an unwel- 
come guest every seventy hours. The term Double 
Tertian is used when the paroxysms occur on alter- 
nate days. Then there is the Double Quartan, with 
a regular pyrexia one day, a slight one the next, and 
a complete intermission on the third day. With the 
Triple Tertian there are two paroxysms one day, and 
one the next. 

The Quotidian, the commonest variety of fever 
and ague, precludes the patient's being consecutively 
engaged in any enterprise until its conclusion, because 
its periodicity is persistent like that of the others. 
Besides, this disease was known to the ancients, and 
Luke, the physician, therefore would have called it 
by its proper name, instead of individualizing it as 

66 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

an irritating splinter, — that is, a thorn in the flesh. 

The apostle tells us that he " prayed the Lord thrice 
that his disease might depart from him " and received 
the reply, " My grace is sufficient for you." Malaria 
might have departed from him, without the aid of 
prayer, by his merely leaving the location where he 
contracted it. " Leave a malarial district and the dis- 
ease will leave you " might be accepted as an axiom. 
So that we may also exclude malaria as a solution of 
the enigma. 

Besides, if Paul had had malaria for so long as 
sixteen years, — about the period of his apostleship, 
— it would in all probability have so enlarged his 
spleen that public attention would have been drawn 
to it ; and he would have needed " a cloak " indeed, 
not only to keep him warm, but to conceal his disfig- 
urement. 



6 7 



CHAPTER XIII 

One of the most scholarly and liberal of men, 
Mosheim, the genial chancellor of the University 
of Gottingen, and historian of Christianity during 
the first three centuries, was of the opinion that Paul's 
cause of woe was " remorse for his past life, includ- 
ing harassing the people of the way, consenting unto 
the death of Stephen, and carrying persecution into 
the very homes of believers." The memory of these 
austerities, he thought, tormented Paul as a perpetual 
irritant and goad, and would not let him rest. 

Let us see what Calvin, that illustrious invalid, 
thought of Paul's infirmity. I would like to recom- 
mend to the reader the article on Calvin in the En- 
cyclopedia Britannica. Like Knox and Luther, he 
was trained in the old theology before the laying of 
the ax at the root of its veteran abuses, and in his new 
life still retained somewhat of the austerity and arro- 
gance of the older establishment. Because of his 
precocious piety, while only twelve years old, he was 
simoniacally appointed to a chaplaincy in the Cathe- 
dral Church of Noyon — boy clerics are not a new 
invention. Just as St. Paul escaped from the perse- 
cution of the king of Damascus by being let down 
from a window in a basket, so he barely escaped with 

68 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

his. life from another king, Francis I of France, by 
descending from his bedroom window, when being 
pursued for heresy, by means of a ladder improvised 
from his sheets. He fled in the disguise of a vine- 
dresser, in whose clothes he concealed himself. Even 
the austere, God-fearing, yet gentle Calvin, who be- 
lieved so earnestly and studied so intently during his 
young manhood that he was able to write the famous 
; ' Institute " in his twenty-second year, and who came 
to differ from the monks in everything else, agreed 
with them in this, that the saint's ailment was " carnal 
temptations," from which he declared no man entirely 
escapes. 

He thought also that Paul confesses as much when 
he says, " For sin, taking occasion by the command- 
ments, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence." 
And again, " When I would do good, evil is present 
with me, for I delight in the law of God after the in- 
ward man : But I see another law in my member, 
warring against the law of my mind, and bringing 
me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my 
members. O wretched man that I am ! Who shall de- 
liver me from the body of this death?" He says 
more distinctly: Ego sub hoc vocabulo comprehends 
arbitror omne genus tcntationis quo Paulus exerceba- 
tur. Nam caro hie, meo judicio, non corpus, sed par- 
tem animae nondum regeneratam signfficat. 

Yet this, we repeat, could not have been his com- 
plaint, for, whatever it was, he " gloried in it," and 
we see he did not glory in this. It only made him 

6 9 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

wretched. Besides, the word " concupiscence " may 
have been used only in a figurative sense. 

Professor Light foot, unlike his predecessors, is as- 
sured that Paul's affliction was " epilepsy." Nothing 
else known to him corresponds so closely to all the 
circumstances of the mysterious indisposition as writ- 
ten above by Paul himself, the man who knew most 
about it, and who, possessing the gift of expression 
in a marked degree, lucidly indicates in his various al- 
lusions to it all the salient points of this particular 
malady. 

Orello Cone, in his very readable book, " Paul the 
Man, the Missionary, and the Teacher," which seems 
to express the views of contemporary German com- 
mentators generally, declares, " as the result of illus- 
trations gathered from numerous examples in ancient 
and modern times," that epilepsy is the most plausible 
solution and that he himself believes that Paul was an 
epileptic. 

Dr. Krenkle, who, like Sir Wm. Ramsay, has writ- 
ten voluminously about the chief of the apostles — see 
his " Des Korperliche Leiden des Paulus " ; also 
" Beitrage zur Aufhellung der Geschichte und Briefe 
des Paulus " — and who has gone deeper into a study 
of the saint's physical personality than any other au- 
thor, seems to think that he has settled the perplexing 
question beyond peradventure when he declares Paul's 
ailment to have been the " Falling sickness." Weiner, 
another critic and writer on Pauline subjects, who 

70 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

nevertheless makes the common mistake of regarding 
epilepsy as a sort of insanity, writes as follows : 

" His [Paul's] contemporaries and later adversa- 
ries," — alluding to Celsus, Lucian, and other irrever- 
ents in the beginning of the Christian era, including the 
caricaturists who wrote of Paul as " the bowlegged, 
baldheaded enthusiast, who made an aerial flight into 
the third heaven," — " and those who in our day rate 
him, in spite of all, for his teachings, imagine they can 
account for his extravagant faith by such terms as ' in- 
sanity,' ' hysteria,' and the like. But they could 
equally put down Caesar and Napoleon as madmen, 
since they also were epileptics." 

By the way, although currently believed, there does 
not seem to be any proof sufficient to convince an ex- 
pert that Napoleon was an epileptic, even in the slight- 
est degree. 

Ewald, Ziegler, and Holsten, that triad of most 
learned men, are unanimous in the conviction that the 
" thorn " was " fallende sucht." The learned John 
Eddie, Professor of Biblical Literature and Exegesis 
in the United Presbyterian Church, also asserts that 
epilepsy is the only disease that corresponds with all 
the circumstances of Paul's malady. See his ex- 
haustive " Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epis- 
tle to the Galatians." 

All the diseases so far mentioned as solutions of the 
mystery of Paul's malady were well known to ancient 
medicine, and if Paul had suffered from any of them 

71 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

— especially when we -consider that his intimate travel- 
ing companion was Luke, " the beloved physician " — 
it would have been called by its official name instead 
of being referred to by a figure of speech. 



72 



CHAPTER XIV 

Finally, it is claimed that the conversion on the way 
to Damascus also presents the familiar physiognomy 
of a profound epileptic attack, and gives unmistak- 
able emphasis to this theory of its being the " Falling 
Sickness." 

The narrative of the event, as recorded in the Acts 
of the Apostles, Chapter vii, 57-58-59, is as follows: 

" Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped 
their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And 
cast him out of the city, and stoned him; and the wit- 
nesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, 
whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, 
calling upon God, and saying, ' Lord Jesus, receive my 
spirit.' " Again, in Chapter ix, 1-2, " And Saul, yet 
breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the 
disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And 
desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, 
that if he found any of this way" — the first believers 
were known as " people of the way," and " were called 
Christians first at Antioch " — " whether they were men 
or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem." 

You have here the religious enthusiast, the man of 
narrow and extreme views, notwithstanding the liber- 
ality of his learning, ready to persecute unto death his 

73 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

opponents — everybody not of the bigot's way of 
thinking is against God and him, for with the nar- 
row sectarian it is usually, "me and the Almighty." 
Certain defenders of the faith in the middle ages had 
inscribed upon their banner, " The friends of God, 
the enemies of mankind." 

This acute intensity of zeal and feeling, this tempest 
and whirlwind of sectarian passion, on the part of 
Paul, stands for the emotional excitement sometimes 
preceding and sometimes also the cause of a fit. 

We have known in several instances of persons de- 
veloping epilepsy through rage, sudden disappointment, 
intense sorrow, excessive zeal, as, for example, at 
religious revivals. We once had an old lady patient 
whose first convulsion occurred as she sat on a pier 
at an ocean resort and saw her son drown in the sea. 
When she first came under our care it was four years 
after the event, and she had then been having con- 
vulsions on an average of about one every five weeks. 

The history of religion is emphasized here and there 
by illustrations of neurotic intensity of feeling directed 
often against all faiths except the victim's own. This 
malevolent frenzy is the cause of most religious per- 
secutions, implying on the part of the aggressive par- 
ticipants that God does not know enough to manage 
the petty inhabitants of His own universe himself 
without the coercive aid of man. See Henry C. Lea's 
" The Inquisition of the Middle Ages ; " " Studies in 
Church History ; " " Superstition and Force ; " " His- 
torical Sketches of Sacerdotal Celibacy;" "History 

74 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

of Auricular Confession and Indigencies ; " "Chap- 
ters from the Religion of Spain," and Motley's " Rise 
and Fall of the Dutch Republic." 

" And as he journeyed," the historian continues, " he 
came near to Damascus, and suddenly there shined 
round about him a light from heaven." 

This is claimed to have been the aura of epilepsy, 
— the sometime luminous cloud that envelops the 
epileptic previous to his convulsions, — but somewhat 
more dramatically manifest than an ordinary aura. 
But then it may be said too that its victim was more 
than an ordinary man, and in a more than ordinary 
state of nervous tension. Instead of the calm philo- 
sophic man that his liberal learning might have im- 
plied, he was a veritable male Medusa, " breathing 
out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of 
the Lord." 

The description continues, " and he fell to the 
earth." This is but the circumstance of the disease 
that gives it its name in nearly all languages, " the 
Falling Sickness." 

" And he heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, 
why persecutest thou me?" This is regarded as the 
" hallucination of hearing," frequently a concomitant 
of an attack of epilepsy. " The epileptic," writes Dr. 
Watson, " at times hears extraordinary voices and 
sees spectral illusions, — not mere specks, but distinct 
forms of persons and things." 

The narrative continues, " And the men that jour- 
neyed with him stood speechless. Men do so still in 

75 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

the presence of a man in convulsions. They either 
do this or something worse, such as filling his mouth 
with table salt, which is an old and favorite abomina- 
tion; or they half drown and smother him by throw- 
ing water in his face. Both these barbarities ought 
to be made criminal offenses, punishable by fine and 
imprisonment. Or perhaps some good-natured sym- 
pathizer in the crowd, putting into practice veritable 
osteopathy, will almost break the patient's clinched 
fingers by prying them open, or will sit or jump upon 
the convulsed limbs of the victim, with the weight of 
his body, in the hope of " aborting the spasm." 

I have come upon men in convulsions — and it is 
remarkable how many you sometimes see in a few days 
— maltreated in this way by some kind-hearted sym- 
pathizer, having more zeal than knowledge, until I 
have felt that the remedies applied for the relief of 
the fit were worse than the fit itself. And when the 
convulsion is over, as it usually is in from two to^ five 
minutes, if nothing is done to prolong it, it would be 
laughable if it were not exasperating to see these near- 
tragedians, — with one knee, it may be, on the pros- 
trate form of their victim as in Wagner's picture of 
" Pollice Verso," looking triumphantly around like 
gladiators, — not the ancient sort of gladiators, how- 
ever, waiting for the signal, " Thumbs down," but with 
the expression upon their faces of having aided in 
the recovery of the man that they had come near mur- 
dering. This ought to be stopped, since epileptics, 
instead of being helped, are sometimes crippled for 

76 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

life by these well-meaning assassins in their practice 
of first aid to the injured. 

They either act thus, or else, like Paul's compan- 
ions, they are " speechless " and awe-struck in the 
presence of an epileptic in the convulsive throes of his 
malady, when they go to the other extreme and do 
nothing. I have seen an epileptic surrounded by a 
crowd in the street, with his face in the gutter, ster- 
torously drawing its muddy water into his mouth and 
nostrils, while the spectators were too astonished to 
think of turning him on his back or of carrying him 
into a near-by house. I once saw a man in convul- 
sions on a sidewalk who had literally chewed off a 
large portion of his tongue while no- one in the crowd 
that surrounded him seemed to have the presence of 
mind to disentangle or release it. 

Not only men but even wild animals, it has been 
said, are as if petrified into a state of immobility when 
seeing a man working in such a paroxysm, or when 
hearing the blood-curdling epileptic cry. And per- 
sons have been known to go into convulsions them- 
selves from seeing another in that condition. 

The abuse of the epileptic by the misinformed 
but kind-hearted, even if horrified, public needs the 
aid of a new propaganda. 

It is only necessary to see that a person while in 
convulsions, and usually for some time afterward, is 
put into a comfortable horizontal position, and that 
the garments are made loose around the neck and 
waist. You do not need to tear the clothing into 

77 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

strips in order to do this ; but should the patient be the 
victim of a Ladies' Home Journal corset for the 
obliteration of the female stomach, for example, slit 
it up the back with a sharp knife. Then the manage- 
ment of the tongue is important. Some epileptics are 
almost tongueless, or they have only a fragment of a 
tongue, in consequence of frequent mutilations. By- 
standers should see that the tongue is not caught be- 
tween the teeth, which may be prevented, if attended 
to in time, by the insertion between the teeth of some 
soft material such as the twisted end of a handker- 
chief or of a towel, or, if nothing better can be had, 
a lead pencil, until the member is safely inside of the 
mouth, when the article may be withdrawn. 

It should be seen, too, that the patient does not hurt 
himself by the convulsive movements of his limbs. 
In doing this as little force is to be used as possible. 
It is useless to attempt to prevent the alternating 
spasms altogether. Just enough force and direction 
to prevent personal injury is necessary. I once knew 
a lady in convulsions, in a tailoring establishment, to 
beat her hand against a sharp knife until she had al- 
most amputated two of her fingers without a hand's 
being stretched forth to prevent it. 

Then it should be remembered that an epileptic in 
convulsions does not need water to be thrust between 
his lips, nor to be bled; nor does he need brandy or 
wine before, after, or during a spell. Epileptics 
should never use alcohol in any form. Nor do they 
need to have ice applied to the head nor mustard to 

78 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

the nape of the neck, nor to be clapped on the back 
and shouted at; and he certainly does not need smell- 
ing salts stuck under his nose — this is utterly inde- 
fensible, reprehensible, and useless. We have had pa- 
tients with their noses and mouths inflamed and blis- 
tered for days after a public exhibition of their in- 
firmity, because of the pungent vapour and sometimes 
of the liquid salts itself which someone, in the hurry 
and confusion of a sudden seizure, had thrust into 
their nostrils while they were unconscious. 

The woman with the vinaigrette is usually of the 
benevolent, affable type, an easy victim to fainting 
herself and consequently addicted to unnecessary 
benevolence, to acts of supererogative, as it were, in 
the matter of aromatic odors when somebody else 
faints. And there seems to be an unconscionable af- 
finity between her abominable smelling bottle and the 
noses of those suffering with all varieties of ailments, 
from a fit to a faint and everything else indigenous to 
the Jordan that rolls between. I once saw an amiable 
but fatuous old lady on a street corner, offering a 
rubicund tramp the use of her smelling bottle — she 
did not happen to have an egg or a pie in her pocket 
— because he told her he was starving. 

When the patient is recovered sufficiently, have him 
taken to his home, if he has one — often he has not, 
and not a soul to be interested in him in all the world 
but you. Epileptics usually carry their names, ad- 
dresses, and some scraps of history in their hats or 
pockets, that they may be identified in case of an at- 

79 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

tack. If he has a home, do not send him to a hos- 
pital, where he is generally left alone, in a draught 
on the floor easiest of access to the street, until he 
makes his escape, covered with confusion and shame. 
The refined epileptic, even if homeless, is very sensi- 
tive, and does not like to have his handicap made a 
matter of hospital record. We may add that hospi- 
tals seem to be unconquerably addicted to the steady 
draught for transient cases, and nothing short of an 
earthquake is capable of arousing them to a knowledge 
of the need of better arrangements. 



80 



CHAPTER XV 

But to resume our interrupted journey to Damascus, 
as recorded by St. Luke in the Acts, " And Saul arose 
from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he 
saw no man; but they led him by the hand, and 
brought him unto Damascus. " 

At this long distance, what a graphic picture it still 
is ! It might have been written by an eye witness of a 
scene or of a single act in the drama of epilepsy, de- 
scribing a man not yet sufficiently recovered from the 
effects of such a paroxysm to go alone. This descrip- 
tion corresponds with the dazed, semi-conscious state 
that sometimes succeeds a severe attack. Some pa- 
tients remain in this stage of the attack for hours, 
while others recover in a few minutes, and are capable 
of finding their way as if nothing had happened. 

The narrative continues, " And he was three days 
without sight, and neither did eat nor drink." 

This, the " automatism " with hysterical blindness, 
sometimes continues for hours or days after a fit. 
Somnambulism is allied to epilepsy. It is not a very 
uncommon occurrence for patients to roam around the 
country or the house, for days, in a somnambu- 
listic condition after a seizure, not clearly conscious 
where they are, and they can give no account after- 

81 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

ward of what has happened. Paul never gave an ac- 
count of the subsequent three days' crisis in his af- 
fairs, although he spoke of the previous part of his 
experience often, which he had evidently spent in the 
house of Ananias, the tanner. 

The denouement of this, the most important event 
but one in all history, — the happy ending of this mys- 
terious experience so startling in its beginning, — is 
but another of the Protean changes terminating the 
series of phenomena known as a paroxysm of epi- 
lepsy. 

The last scene of all that ends this strange eventful 
history, like the happy ending of a romance, shows 
its subject restored to sight three days after the at- 
tack and as suddenly and unexpectedly as he lost it. 
Thus this profound experience in the life of the great- 
est and most heroic man that ever aided humanity by 
the inculcation of lofty ideals and exhibition of ex- 
alted conduct is with some moiety of plausibility re- 
duced to a mere pathologic episode in the life of a 
neurotic, presenting, as has been shown, most of the 
phenomena of such a condition, — namely, preliminary 
excitement, aura, hallucination of sight and hearing, 
falling to the earth, loss of consciousness, temporary 
blindness, inability to walk for a time, followed by 
protracted automatism and subsequent sudden and per- 
manent restoration of sight. 

Thus we have endeavored, as fully as possible — 
nothing extenuate and naught set down in malice — 
to set forth the various facts, arguments, and conjec- 

82 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

tures upon which the theory of Paul's epilepsy is 
founded, keeping back nothing. We have given argu- 
ments that are plausible enough, and that have certainly 
been accepted, even if reluctantly, by many theologians 
and physicians without any diminution of esteem for 
his endowments or reverence for his character. Yet 
just as the pleas in favor of the worthless but inter- 
esting theories of the fathers of various schools and 
periods, having reference merely to their own pro- 
pensity to peccability rather than to Paul's, appear un- 
tenable when seen in the light of to-day, so also those 
in favor of epilepsy vanish like the baseless fabric 
of a vision leaving not a rack behind, — vanish as dark- 
ness vanishes before the approach of day. 



83 



PART II 



CHAPTER I 

Epilepsy to the Greeks meant punishment for per- 
sonal or ancestral impurity; to the Hebrews it im- 
plied " demoniacal possession " ; to the Romans " an- 
ger of the gods " ; to each it was a protest of the 
spiritual powers against irreverence. To all these 
three nations to whom the greatest of the apostles was 
intellectually related — for he was versed in the lan- 
guage and literature of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome 
— epilepsy was a familiar condition under the surveil- 
lance of definite custom and law. 

It was a malady known not only to physicians, but 
to the laity as well. And to such an extent was it a 
matter of unfortunate distinction to be an epileptic 
in Paul's day and centuries before he was born that 
the man thus afflicted became not only an object of 
commiseration and sympathy, but more often of fear 
and scorn. It was a custom in Tarsus and other parts 
of the Roman Empire for bystanders to spit upon a 
man in convulsions as a prophylactic against contract- 
ing epilepsy themselves. 

It was a common practice, too, in various parts of 
the East for epileptics to wear black, that the invisible 
powers, seeing them in mourning in reprobation of 
the sin, near or remote, for which the disease was the 

87 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

punishment, might withdraw their resentment and the 
disease at the same time. 

The deities in particular to whom the disease was 
attributed were, — Cybele ; Neptune ; Proserpine, the 
daughter of Jupiter and Ceres; Apollo; Mars, and 
Hecate, the daughter of Jupiter and Latona. There 
seems to have been something especially malign in the 
progeny of Jupiter, despite his distinction of being the 
supreme deity; and the medical specialists of the day 
became so expert in the refinements of diagnoses in 
this particular,, that by the recognition of certain 
symptoms — known only to the initiated — they could 
tell which of the offended deities it was that used the 
avenging rod. 

Each, it seems, had his or her own particular trade- 
mark and method of doing business, known only to the 
elect. This knowledge, — the result of profound 
study, sometimes abroad, for Egypt was the Ger- 
many of Greece, and you could tell that it must have 
been profound, for the professors wore such long 
beards and looked so serious, like those well versed in 
a sad ostent, — was necessary in order to know the 
proper shade of black that the patient was to wear, and 
the position he or she was to assume in sleeping. 
These two factors were as important in those days for 
appeasing the wrath of the gods and bringing about 
recovery as the venom of rattlesnake is to-day, pre- 
suming, of course, that the gods, like Barkis, " were 
willin'." 

Unfortunately they were not always so kindly dis- 

88 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

posed, and then the poor victim was blamed. " The 
worm on the leaf turned on the worm in the dust," 
accusing him of having incurred the everlasting con- 
demnation of offended divinity and consequently of 
being beyond medical aid. Then he was not only 
abandoned by the gods, but also by his doctor. 

Adroit quackery has existed in all ages. Wasn't the 
first charlatan a serpent, my dear, and did he not offer 
to our common mother, Eve, a pretentious elicitor of 
wisdom as a remedy for all woe? And did he not 
put the blame on the patient and become invisible, mov- 
ing into another garden when the remedy failed? 
Poor Eve, poor Devil! Maybe, after all, he didn't 
know it was so explosively loaded. His various his- 
tories, we must remember, have been written by his 
enemies, and he has never been permitted to say a 
credible word in his own defense; yet without him 
virtue would be impossible. 



8 9 



CHAPTER II 

If Paul had been an epileptic, then, in a Greek city, 
it would have been known and likely recorded. The 
circulars of the doctors of those days would have been 
under his door, and it would have been useless to al- 
lude to the disease by a figure of speech. Even if he 
had wished to do so, he could not have concealed it. 
No one could see a man in a spasm and forget it, for 
it is so unlike anything else and it leaves such a pro- 
found imprint upon the imagination. I have had old 
persons tell me of the indelible impression made upon 
them by having seen a person in a paroxysm of epi- 
lepsy when they were children, and that the memory of 
it remained with them until their old age. 

I knew the superintendent of a large epileptic col- 
ony who after thirty years of specializing in epilepsy 
became an epileptic. He was prostrated when away 
from home on his holiday by the unexpected sight of 
a woman in convulsions. So inevitable is the influence 
exerted upon the sensitive intellect that men specialists 
usually contract their own specialty unless it be gyne- 
cology or obstetrics. He had taken the wings of 
the morning and flown to the uttermost part of the 
sea; yet, like the presence of God, it had followed and 
awed him. 

90 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

I knew another man who had charge of over a hun- 
dred such patients in a sanitarium, and who, when 
during his vacation the person he was talking to in a 
hotel corridor happened to " excuse himself " to have 
a fit, fell to the ground unconscious with the epileptic. 
The bystanders thought the doctor dead. The attack 
was due, he told me afterwards, to his being horrified 
by the unexpected proximity of the thing he thought 
he had left behind. 

If, then, the Apostle born out of due time had had 
this ominous disease, and even if he had wished to 
conceal it, which, knowing the candor of his nature, we 
cannot conceive, his friends would have talked about it 
to one another. The disease could not have been hid- 
den from them, and they would have talked about it 
if only in the sympathy and solacement of whispered 
confidence, just as acquaintances to-day in trusting 
familiarity tell the beads on the rosary of our own 
weaknesses to our friends, and so ad infinitum it would 
have pirouetted through the centuries just as sure as it 
is that a thing told in secret never dies. 

When a matter becomes a subject of friendly trust, 
it lives on. Being told into the ear and under the 
breath makes a thing more public than its being pro- 
claimed from the housetops. A slander repeated in 
the open may be garroted at birth ; told behind a fan, 
it is stamped with immortality. 

Just think of the concealments that everybody knows 
about our friends but themselves, of the compromising 
silences of the great that nobody is supposed to know. 

9i 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

Yet even the vulgar talk about them as jests at hilarious 
gatherings. 

The secret sorrows of gross, pathologic Swift and of 
euphemistic Ruskin, — the cause of so much that was 
eccentric in their lives, — are known, and so is Robert 
Browning's scrotal hernia that he tried in vain to keep 
to himself. Think of the woes of Augustus Caesar 
and the efforts he made to hide his bodily blemishes; 
yet they were the confidential talk of camp and grove. 
The secret of Sextus della Rovera was concealed un- 
der oath; yet it was made known in confidence as 
" rottenness from his middle to the soles of his feet." 

Then there was the morbus gallicus in the extrem- 
ities of the haughty and majestic Pope Julius II, who 
would not disclose his feet to the obeisance of the 
faithful for fear of their betraying him; yet this 
tragedy of his inner life is known now, hundreds of 
years afterward, by everyone who reads. Take into 
consideration the self-mutilation of Origen, the wen of 
Cicero, the holes in the feet of CEdipus that did not pre- 
vent him from becoming king, the " withered " arm 
of the present noble Kaiser of Germany, the goiter of 
Louise that she tried in vain to conceal by a ribbon 
from Napoleon, and the many other profound secrets 
that nobody lets on he knows, yet everybody really 
knows. And so it would have been with Paul, if he 
had been, as many of his biographers claim, an 
epileptic. 

As a universal disseminator of the hidden compro- 
mises of humanity commend me to secrecy. So it is, 

92 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

so it always has been, as you may learn by reading any 
of the contemporaneous writers, or other writers long 
previous to Paul. 

You know your Aristophanes, Theocritus, Moschus, 
Bion; they are as modern in this as if written to- 
day. You know also our historian Luke who said, 
" For all the Athenians and strangers which were there 
spent their time in nothing else but to hear or to tell 
some new thing." 

You may imagine then how the newsmongers of 
Athens would have gossiped about Paul the epileptic, if 
he had been one. Think of the " witticisms " they 
would have perpetrated at his expense, for the Greeks, 
like the Romans, had no pity. Think of the capital 
they would have made of his infirmity, — a man that 
the gods had singled out for specific punishment; an 
epileptic, the apostle of a brand new cult! with the 
land already overcrowded with cults; a victim of 
morbus herculeus, the advocate of a celestial creed! as 
if they did not have too many as it was; a visionary, 
exploiting the merits of the latest religious claimant for 
universal acceptance, when the religious market was al- 
ready full to overflow ! For the reader must remember 
that Athens then had as many philosophic and religious 
sects and as many scoffers as Boston at its best; and 
that the Athenians also thought their city the hub of 
the universe, and were just as fond of boasting and 
joking about the denominational ingenuity of their own 
people; so that an epileptic as the founder of a new 
school of philosophy or new variety of religion would 

93 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

have been hailed at least as an amusing novelty and 
syndicated at once. 

It would have gotten in print with the other slanders 
about him, and unmistakably would have been handed 
down to us. If he had been an epileptic with a desire 
to conceal it, even if he had had premonition of his 
attacks, as some have a minute more or less of warning 
before the fall, he could not in that short time have 
" borrowed " the shelter of a near-by vestibule or par- 
lour " to have a fit in:" Nor could he have suffered in 
silence and undetected : the publicity of Oriental life, 
the lack of domestic privacy in that open air land, 
would have made it impossible. He was more of a 
peripatetic than any of the so-called peripatetics. His 
was a continuous itineracy: his flittings were as fre- 
quent as if he had been a gypsy. And often, too, he 
lived in tents. We think one-night stands a modern 
novelty ; yet one day would find him in Amphipolis, the 
next at Apolonia ; in a few days more flying in the night 
to Corinth, to Achaia, to Ephesus, to Csesarea. Some 
places would become the center of operation for 
months, even for a few years, during which time he 
paid evangelistic visits to all the surrounding towns, 
preaching in the streets, the courts of caravansaries, in 
the synagogues, hired halls, the fields, on the roadside 
wherever he could find listeners — instant in season 
and out of season — being all things to all men that by 
any means he might save some. 

Surely such a state of activity could hardly have been 
possible to one suffering from this disease, no matter 

94 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

how few his seizures, without his having been known 
as an epileptic. Even if he had been rich, in the East 
seclusion and concealment would have been impossible. 
But being poor, despised, except by a few mostly poor 
followers, being often without any kind of shelter, 
he made a tent. Living mostly in the open air 
and sleeping often on the bare ground, he could not 
have had such a disease without its being mentioned by 
name. 



95 



CHAPTER III 

All sorts of charges were made against him by his 
many opponents. All accusations giving a sign of just- 
ification for his being scorned, spat upon, banished, 
persecuted, scourged, being left for dead, were pro- 
claimed about him; but there is no intimation that he 
was thought to have been a man that had incurred the 
displeasure of the gods, or was demoniacally possessed. 
Nothing would have cut short his career so quickly as 
its public proclamation; but it was never proclaimed. 

His family too, all, apparently, but his " sister's 
son," turned against him. They called him everything 
else but an epileptic, which they certainly would have 
called him if he had been one, for it was their deter- 
mined purpose to stultify him in every way. That 
there is no record in his family or among his contem- 
poraries of his having been a victim of morbus sacer is 
prima facie evidence that he was not. 

From what we know of the candor of his character, 
of his always having the courage of his convictions and 
exhibiting a fortitude never shaken by reverses, of his 
universal enlightenment and disposition rather to glory 
in his infirmities, we believe if he had been an epileptic 
he would have known it and would not have sugar- 
coated the confession of it by a metaphor, and left the 

9 6 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

question a matter of perplexing conjecture to the idle 
or curious or reverent of subsequent generations. 

It was his practice, as a rule, to express abstruse 
thoughts lucidly : this is one of his distinctions. Why, 
then, should he reverse in this case the custom of his 
life and do the opposite, make a light thing dark, since 
we cannot conceive of his not knowing the word? 
There could, then, have been no other reason for the 
figurative allusion to his affliction but his not correctly 
comprehending what it was, — something not under- 
stood either by himself, or his physician. 

Again, he was a linguist, with a scholar's vocabulary 
in at least three tongues. The disease under discussion 
had colloquial and written names in each, with syn- 
onyms, so that he could not in the nature of things have 
known the word without having known its meaning. 
And he could not have known the languages well 
enough to speak them as he did without having known 
the equivalent in each for epilepsy. Certainly, then, he 
would not have alluded to the disease as " a thorn in 
the flesh." He would have used rather the Hebrew, 
Greek, or Latin name for it. Then he finally went out- 
side of Asia Minor into Italy and became a resident of 
Rome, among a people so familiar with epilepsy that 
they had enacted laws about it, believing that the dis- 
ease was mimetic, as it sometimes is, that is, that seeing 
a man in convulsions induced convulsions in the be- 
holder. It was decreed that any gathering of the 
people in the Forum, or other places, no matter how im- 
portant or large the meeting, the moment a person was 

97 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

taken with an attack of epilepsy the meeting was to be 
at once dispersed. So important was this considered 
that elections occurring at the time when a person pres- 
ent had a fit were declared void. 

It was this circumstance that gave the disease one of 
its many names in ancient Italy, morbus comitialis, 
political disease, because it interfered with elections and 
other political gatherings. 

Paul resided as a prisoner in the imperial city for 
two years " in his own hired house," but under police 
surveillance, and, as has been said, for some part of 
that time he was chained to a Roman soldier, or rather 
to relays of Roman soldiers. Thus his being an epi- 
leptic would have been discovered, if he had been one, 
and we would consequently have definitely heard of 
it. But we never have. 

He was not an obscure man to be effaced with 
facility, like the husband of a suffragette. He 
was a Roman citizen, the recognized leader of a new 
cult; "a fellow that had turned the world upside 
down," a political prisoner who had audaciously de- 
manded a personal interview with the Emperor, and 
was important enough for Nero afterward to< put him 
to death, by accusing him of being mixed up with the 
burning of the city, as was currently believed. 

If, then, like Julius Caesar, he had had the " falling 
sickness," the circumstance would have been used 
against him and proclaimed. It never was. 

Again, the Acts of the Apostles, recording among 
other things minute descriptions of the incidents of his 

9 8 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

various journeys, was written by his companion and 
intimate associate, — his private secretary, we might 
say, — Luke, a physician, presumably knowing epi- 
lepsy, and, judging from his gospel as well as history, 
" a close observer, looking," like Cassius, " quite 
through the deeds of men." Yet he does not allude to 
any of Paul's various and rather frequent indispo- 
sitions during their travels as being in any way allied 
to that disease. 

As a learned physician, Luke must have been fa- 
miliar with the writings of his countryman, the great- 
est physician of ancient times, Hippocrates, " the father 
of medicine," a native of the Greek island of Cos, who 
died about three hundred and fifty years before Luke 
was born and who wrote in Greek the first treatise on 
epilepsy ever written, a work that is true to the facts 
of the disease still. In doing so he became almost 
wearisome, certainly prolix, in a vain attempt to cure 
his countrymen of the superstition that " epilepsy 
originated in the anger of the gods." He runs into 
another error himself: namely, — that it was brought 
about by " humidity of the brain." 

For Luke, or any well-read physician of the ancient 
world, to be ignorant of anything of importance writ- 
ten about this everywhere present distemper, and 
by such a man as Hippocrates, would be as much of a 
dereliction or solecism as for a modern physician to be 
ignorant of the science of asepsis, or vaccination, as 
a prophylactic against smallpox. And, by the way, the 
first recorded vivisection, as far as we know, was in 

99 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

connection with the study of morbus sacer by Hippoc- 
rates. His opinion, deduced it would seem from 
experimental incisions into the brains of living sheep 
and goats, was that epilepsy was due to " cerebral 
moisture." His book on the " Falling Sickness," the 
first treatise on the subject known to us, except certain 
things written on papyrus by the Egyptians two thou- 
sand years before Christ, was in connection with these 
experiments. 

He also proclaimed in the book from which the above 
is a paraphrase the theory that epilepsy attacks the 
foetus in utero, and that it never invades its victims 
after their twentieth year unless they had had it in 
infancy, — a theory, however, that has not been cor- 
roborated by modern observation. 

If Paul, therefore, had been an epileptic, Luke would 
have known it, if for no other reason than because of 
his having probably read Hippocrates. Paul's family 
and neighbors would have known it, and they hardly 
would have connived at its concealment. 



IOO 



CHAPTER IV 

He was " disloyal " to his race and to " the faith of 
his fathers." Every man that is not a moral coward 
must be disloyal to the faith of his fathers — if grow- 
ing from it is being disloyal — when it is not in har- 
mony with better enlightenment. Otherwise we would 
all be pagans, idolaters, or worshipers of fetishes, an- 
cestors, or the sun. They would have been too glad, 
because of his having given up his ancestral faith, to 
reveal his " demoniacal possession " in order to stultify 
or minimize the influence of his heresy ; but they never 
did. He was accused of everything else, but not of 
that. 

Eighteen months he resided at Corinth with Priscilla 
and Aquila, fellow tent-makers, of keen enlightenment; 
and of extensive experience as travelers. We find this 
attractive couple closely identified with the rise of 
Christianity in many distant places at various times. 
The splendidly built and well-policed Roman roads of 
that day, lined as they were with various houses of en- 
tertainment, made communication with the many places 
of the great empire comparatively easy. While Paul 
w r as their guest at Corinth he preached in the syn- 
agogue there, but afterward he preached in the house 
of a gentile, — Titus Justus, — who lived next door. 

IOI 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

The hostility of his former co-religionists must have 
been excited to the utmost by his startling utterances, 
and also that of the pagan Corinthians, whose vices he 
denounced and exposed. For with all his longing for 
human sympathy, he was never mealy-mouthed in de- 
nunciation of wrong. In retaliation they would have 
been glad to have fathered upon him the " disgrace " 
of epilepsy. Yet their silence on the subject also is 
that of the grave. 

The prism of his imagination refracting many a 
bright and favorite error into its spectrum of inherent 
wickedness naturally gave offense. As Lais broke her 
looking-glass when she discovered that it had revealed 
her wrinkles, so Paul's enemies, some of them too with 
the best intentions, would have plotted his ruin rather 
than accept the strange prohibitions of the new faith, 
or submit to the compromise, to them, of its success. 
And thus we find them accusing him of every defect 
save epilepsy. 

Ephesus was then the capital of Asia and one of the 
most influential cities of the East. It was here that 
Paul got into hot water again, because of his fulmina- 
tions against their goddess Diana, " whose image had 
fallen from heaven, where it had been made by the 
hands of Jupiter himself." " Great is Diana of the 
Ephesians," was the war cry, and the people who 
profited by reproducing her image and had gotten opu- 
lent support from the administrations of her cere- 
monies and rites, as well as the citizens and other in- 

102 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

habitants who reaped gain and glory from her prox- 
imity, were fierce in the battle of her supremacy. So 
that between them and the always alert Sanhedrim the 
lot of " Paul the little " was not a happy one. It was 
rather as if he were between the devil and the deep 
sea. Can you imagine it? Just stop a moment and 
think of Paul's position in Ephesus. Martin Luther's 
at Worms could only be compared to it. 

For three years he made Ephesus the center of his 
operations without being murdered. For three 
months he preached in the synagogue, for two years in 
the school or lecture hall of one Tyrannus. Here he 
exercised " miraculous power," and was so successful 
as a preacher " that all they which dwelt in Asia heard 
the word of the Lord." It was while here also that he 
heard of the attack made on him by teachers of his own 
faith in Galilee. 

From Ephesus he went again to that Jerusalem 
where, according to the Talmud, the people were so 
devout that it took besides the temple four hundred 
and eighty synagogues to accommodate all the wor- 
shipers of God. 

He returned to that former place of residence where 
he had been a student at the feet of Gamaliel, with a 
presentiment that evil would befall him there, because 
of the maddening malice of the populace in conse- 
quence of his apostasy. To them he had joined the 
enemy. And the loyal and devout Jews were goaded 
to the highest fury by the very sight of him; for was 
he not guilty of blasphemy and disloyalty, and did he 

103 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

not call into question the authority of that reverent 
institution, the Sanhedrim, surely the most humane 
instrument of justice ever invented? 

Forty Pharisees had sworn neither to eat nor drink 
until they had taken his life. The captain of the guard, 
Claudius Lysias, had to interfere to save him from 
being torn to pieces. They had accused him of every 
possible and impossible thing but epilepsy, and they 
would most certainly have added that to the catalogue 
of his offenses or compromises, if there had been the 
slightest shadow of proof of it. Nothing w T ould have 
ended his career so rapidly as an accusation of being 
" possessed of demons," with its convincing fits ; but 
he never was accused. 

There never was a period in the history of the church, 
from the time of Christ until the present, when Chris- 
tians did not accuse their fellows of being heretics and 
consequently evil-doers, — failing to see that Christian- 
ity is not so much a creed as a life. It takes relays of 
Mohammedan soldiers, splendid fellows they are too, 
" unspeakable Turks " though we call them, to keep 
belligerent Christian sects, hating one another (each 
claiming to be the genuine metal, and all others but 
plated, and badly plated at that), from one another's 
throats, and in the very building erected over the place 
of Christ's sepulchre in the holy but dirty city of Je- 
rusalem. 

Can the reader imagine, then, with the excitement 
and nature of Paul's auditors, his having an attack of 
epilepsy at one of his intense gatherings and calling it 

104 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him, without the 
occurrence taking to itself wings and flying not only 
over all Asia Minor but to the uttermost parts of the 
earth? 

Consider his defense before the Sanhedrim; his ar- 
rest at Jerusalem ; his capture at Csesarea ; his speeches 
before Festus, Agrippa, and especially Felix, when that 
tyrant voluptuary exclaimed, " Paul, thou art beside 
thyself; much learning doth make thee mad." Yet he 
did not call him an epileptic. His journey to the cap- 
ital in custody of Roman soldiers, shipwreck, captivity 
in Rome, and the various other incidents of the jour- 
ney, the hypothesis of the second imprisonment, all 
give ample opportunity for exposure if he had been an 
epileptic ; but there is not the slightest intimation by his 
companions that such was the case. 



105 



CHAPTER V 

The Book of Acts ends the story of Paul's labors 
with the remark that for two years, — while in duress 
in Rome, — he preached the kingdom of God and 
taught concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all con- 
fidence, no man hindering him. 

Thus his joy and ambition, the preaching of the new 
faith in the capital of the civilized world, was realized, 
and without an intimation by any of his companions, 
or members of his family, or co-religionists, or phy- 
sicians, or familiars, — enemies or friends, — that he 
was affected even in the slightest degree with the " fall- 
ing sickness." 

Finally, although the conversion on the way to Da- 
mascus presents many of the circumstances of an attack 
of epilepsy, yet it lacked three important distinctions, 
separating it from that disease. 

First. His companions heard the voice but could 
not understand the words, which were Greek to them 
being Hebrews, or Hebrew to them being Greek or 
Grecians. It must be remembered that Hebrew even 
then was almost a dead language. An " hallucina- 
tion of hearing," we repeat, is not heard by more than 
one person at a time, unless as the result of premedita- 
tion. 

1 06 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

Second. When he fell to the earth and heard the 
words, " Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" if he 
had been at the time the victim of an epileptic attack 
and hearing a voice as the epileptic sometimes does, 
being but delusional and therefore but one of the symp- 
toms of a seizure, he could not have been in a mental 
state to have replied by asking an intelligent and appro- 
priate question, " Who art thou, Lord? " These two 
circumstances alone are sufficient to differentiate the 
conversion from a seizure of epilepsy. Even the mild- 
est attack, say of petit mal, would make the use of intel- 
ligent interrogation impossible. How much more so 
an attack of epilepsis major, exhibiting all the classic 
phenomena of such a paroxysm ! There are attacks of 
epilepsy so slight as to be overlooked by any one but 
an expert. Many persons who wake up in the morning 
with headache may suffer thus for years without know- 
ing that it is frequently due to nocturnal epilepsy, and 
if not cured, may develop into the graver sort. There 
are cases so fugitive that they are gone in less than 
a minute, — the eyes of the patient become suddenly 
fixed and for a moment or two vacant. If engaged in 
conversation, he sometimes tries to prolong it in a 
short, incoherent manner. Lord Byron's epilepsy, in the 
beginning, was mostly of that nature, and if he had 
lived long enough he would likely have become violently 
epileptic. The attempt to continue the conversation is 
like stuttering, or a series of abortive attempts to 
articulate the last word, which is muttered for half a 
minute or so. When the attack is over, the patient 

107 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

takes the thread of conversation as if nothing had hap- 
pened. It may be all over in a minute ; yet, after hav- 
ing observed an attack even of this, the slightest nature, 
the spectator never forgets it. And we reiterate that 
if St. Paul's so-called attacks of epilepsy had been 
even of this comparatively insignificant description — ■ 
the very slightest attacks, however, are not insignifi- 
cant — he would not have carried on while under its 
influence an intelligent dialogue with an " hallucina- 
tion " that talked back in words heard not only by 
their object, but by his companions. The voice of an 
" hallucination," we repeat, is never heard but by one 
person at a time, except as the result of conspiracy. 

Third. This ardent advocate of personal righteous- 
ness as an expression of faith in a " Risen Lord " re- 
ceived an impression and spiritual uplift from this 
event in his history that transformed his entire life, 
making him an intense adherent of what he formerly 
opposed. And he remained an intense adherent from 
the hour of its occurrence until the moment when the 
axe of the executioner separated his head from his 
body, and freed his soul to the pathless amplitudes of 
the sky, where he realized in the presence of his 
Master all the unutterable felicities and glories that 
had been revealed to him in the vision on the way to 
Damascus. 

He never doubted nor hesitated a moment after his 
conversion. There is nothing at all like that event in 
all history, — an event so startling, so dramatic, so pro- 
found, and so far-reaching in its beneficent influence. 

108 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

Men do not receive revelations urging them to self- 
denial and righteousness through communications with 
hallucinations during a fit ! 

It could not have occurred even with Paul, notwith- 
standing his strength of mind, the profundity of his 
reason, and the metaphysical sweep of his conceptions, 
since the slightest attack of epilepsy, even with minds 
the greatest, — Caesar's, Mohammed's, Lord Byron's, 
for example, — makes intelligent communication im- 
possible. 

This is surely not the explanation of this question. 
If Paul's conversion were but a manifestation of dis- 
ease, his subsequent career was but a delirium due to a 
neurosis, and consequently without even sane authority. 

The Apostle's vision on the way to Damascus was 
not disease, nor due to disease, but was what the Bible 
called it, conversion, — a divine revelation, resulting 
in the creation of a new life. From that moment he 
continued the practice of ever-increasing beneficence 
until the last accents fell from his lips, and he had 
realized again, but in a fuller sense, the celestial things 
that eye hath not seen nor ear heard, the things that 
were calmly yet rapturously prefigured in his vision. 

The greatest influences of a man's life are his 
visions. They are as significant of the man as the con- 
tents of his pockets are of a boy. The accumulated 
wisdom of a nation has been concentrated into an 
adage which declares that " where there is no vision 
the people perish." 



109 



PART III 



CHAPTER I 

Thus we have shown what Paul was not, — that is, 
an epileptic. He was not this even in the slightest de- 
gree, nor did he suffer from any disorder — with apol- 
ogies to the great men who differ with us — that prop- 
erly qualified capacity, after examining the evidence, 
would mistake for epilepsy. 

He could not have been an epileptic without its 
being known, in a country where people lived mostly in 
the open air, in intimate communion, where there was 
almost no privacy. Every man you met nearly was a 
trained diagnostician in that particular malady in those 
lands where the disease was so frequent : because, per- 
haps, of the fact that marriage ceremonies frequently 
ended in bibulous debauches, and children, especially 
first-born children, were conceived in intoxication. At 
least forty per cent, of all epileptics are due to the fact 
that either one or both parents were under the influence 
of alcohol at the time of conception. Nor are such 
persons necessarily drunkards, for it may have been 
only their first offense. We ourselves have traced such 
cases of epilepsy in children to single acts of intoxica- 
tion on the part of one or both parents at the time of 
conception. 

The sacred disease was a marked and familiar 

113 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

feature of Greek, Roman, and Jewish life, so that cir- 
cumstantial evidence in all its vast comprehensiveness 
is overwhelmingly against the theory that Paul had 
epilepsy. 

We have shown, then, what Paul's " thorn in the 
flesh " was not. Now we shall attempt to show what 
it actually was, and, if possible, to rock to sleep in the 
cradle of verity the restless infant Conjecture that has 
been disturbing the peace of critics through the ages, 
from Tertullian to the present hour. 

We hazard the diagnosis, — to be sure a long dis- 
tance one, and that too without having seen the patient, 
or even a satisfactory picture of him by a contempo- 
rary, — that the " thorn in the flesh " was chronic ap- 
pendicitis. 

The disease was not known to ancient medicine as 
such. At least it had not yet attained the distinction 
of recognition by medical writers : the appendix and its 
pathologic possibilities in Paul's time were yet a terra 
incognita to ancient anatomy, and the science of path- 
ology was hardly known. 

Even perityphlitis, the name by which appendicitis 
was formerly called or confused, came into vogue and 
fashionable recognition long after Luke. 

Appendicitis, perityphlitis, or phlegme iliaque, as 
the French call it, a disease that so frequently in mod- 
ern life takes squatter sovereignty of a site in the 
iliac fosse near the vermiform appendix and cecum, in- 
volving generally the appendix, as a general rule runs 
but a short course. Yet now and again it becomes 

114 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

chronic in character, presenting insidious and obscure 
symptoms at times, preventing its real character from 
being known, so that nothing short of an exploratory 
incision reveals it. It is not at all unusual for patients 
to have many successive attacks of appendicitis at vari- 
ous intervals, as Paul evidently had. The attacks ex- 
tend over long periods, say from ten to twelve years 
and upward, and the patient is on the very verge of 
death at times, but escapes, as it were, by the skin of 
the teeth, or like sliding from a roof or falling from a 
balloon, an experience that is always risky, even if not 
always fatal. 

There may be an undiscovered swelling, which with 
all the advance that has been made in our knowledge 
of the symptomatology of the disease, may escape de- 
tection still. Yet the patient feels ailing in an ill- 
defined way, with occasional storms of intestinal pain, 
and generally looks unwell. 

The most common cause of this disorder is irrita- 
tion, resulting in inflammation, due to certain foreign 
bodies such as small particles of fish-bone, seeds of 
various kinds, and the like, finding lodgment in or 
around the appendix. It is also due to blows ; to con- 
tusions resulting from kicks, bruises, floggings, 
stonings ; to colds, exposure as in shipwrecks, irregu- 
larity of eating, concretions due to alimentary disturb- 
ances, errors of diet, and the like, — just such contin- 
gencies as were common to Paul in his various labors 
and persecutions. 

The many allusions to his particular illness indicate 

115 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

as plainly as words can, without actually mentioning it, 
the disease that we have indicated. 

We once had a patient, the skipper of a small craft 
running between Philadelphia and certain towns of the 
New England coast, who suffered more or less con- 
stantly for thirteen years with chronic appendicitis. 
He had occasional " knock-out " paroxysms of extreme 
suffering, making it at times impossible for him to con- 
tinue his occupation until the cessation of the attack. 
He finally died from exhaustion, consequent upon com- 
plications caused by or resulting in a more violent in- 
vasion of his malady. 

The character of his suffering was as near that of St. 
Paul's as it is possible for two analogous diseases to be. 
The description of both cases, as far as they go, are 
interchangeable; nor do I believe my experience at all 
unique. To-day both my captain and favorite saint 
would have been cured by surgery. This was in the 
days before asepsis and before the etiology of the dis- 
ease was clearly known, and consequently its surgery 
was not even dreamt of. 

The disorder presented symptoms of which the phy- 
sician of Paul's day and our own, until lately, did not 
know the significance. Being in the dark in regard 
to its morbid anatomy necessarily made a definite di- 
agnosis difficult, if not impossible. Hence the perplex- 
ing lack of exactness and lucidity of description of the 
apostle in referring to it. 

The sensation it produced at irregular intervals, like 
the prodding or piercing of a bluntish instrument, when 

116 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

from some cause or other its inflammation became more 
acute, might easily be likened to " a stake or thorn in 
the flesh." 

The Apostle in describing the pain of his disorder 
could not have said that it was like the piercing of a 
knife, as the word knife in our acceptance was not then 
known, so he used the term dxpi'<;, a word that might 
be used to express the sharp end of the wooden handle 
that entered the socket of a metal spear, just as well 
as a stake or thorn — the same word may be used for 
both. It was the best comparison that he knew to 
answer his purpose ; or may be the goading of donkeys 
by the donkey boys of his period suggested the com- 
parison. 



117 



CHAPTER II 

In the very nature, then, of things neither Paul nor 
Luke, his historian and physician, could give his mys- 
terious ailment a local habitation nor a name. Hence 
the references to it are merely descriptive and figura- 
tive. It produced a feeling like a thorn or stake pierc- 
ing the flesh, and left sensations afterward as if the 
muscles had been beaten or " buffeted," just as does a 
paroxysm of appendicitis or perityphlitis still. " It 
keeps sore all the time like a splinter in a wound, with 
other disagreeable symptoms, but sometimes it is very 
much worse," as a victim of chronic appendicitis once 
said to me, who finally submitted to an operation and 
was cured. 

The apostle's obscurity of description, then, would 
not, indeed could not, have been made, if the trouble 
had been epilepsy. For even the laity in those days, 
as we have shown, were well enough acquainted with 
its symptoms and physiognomy to recognize it, like a 
malevolent visitor, at a glance; and they would have 
called it by some one of the aliases by which it has been 
known for centuries. If Hebrew: thus, — n^aaWi, 
" falling sickness," or -\& ante, " possessed of a de- 
mon." Both were names by which epilepsy was 
known to the Jews. If Greek: thus, — Unhjmpt^ 

n8 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

from the suddenness of the onset, or iirdafiftdvot t I 
seize upon. 

If Latin: thus, — Morbus Divinus; Morbus Her- 
culeus, as Hercules was supposed to be an epileptic; 
Morbus Comitialis; Morbus Caducus; Morbus Luna- 
ticus Astralis, from the theory that it was connected 
with the phases of the moon or stars; Morbus Demon- 
iacus; Morbus Major, and so on. Its numerous names 
indicate the dismay with which the spectator is affected 
when witnessing an attack. 

There must have been a name for epilepsy in 
Aramaic, the conjectural vernacular of Jesus. For 
like Mohammed in this, although influencing a polyglot 
people, our Saviour as a man knew but one tongue him- 
self. But since the language or dialect spoken by our 
Lord is entirely effaced from the record of written or 
spoken tongues, except the few words that he uttered 
while suffering the anguish of crucifixion, we do not 
now know how epilepsy was expressed by Him. He 
certainly knew the disease, as he did leprosy, and likely 
trachoma, as the cases of blindness cured by Him were 
in all probability that variety of granulated lids that 
despite everything even to-day almost invariably ends 
in total blindness. 

Those from whom " He cast out devils " are said by 
certain critics merely to have been " epileptics." It is 
also said that in allowing them to be called " demon 
possessed " persons He was, merely as a matter of 
expediency and to avoid useless controversy, accommo- 
dating himself to the common superstition that Hippoc- 

119 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

rates three hundred and fifty years before had tried 
to correct. Feeble sophistry this. To us such an eluci- 
dation of a perplexing subject is discrediting to the 
candor and truthfulness of the Founder of Christianity, 
and we have never accepted it. 

The question of demoniacal possession is either a 
discarded or unsettled one still, unless regarded in a 
figurative sense. 

We may say metaphorically that some of the moral 
monsters of the pagan world, — Caligula, Domitian, 
Heliogabalus, or Nero, — were possessed of devils, or 
that certain of the lewd and bloody wretches of the 
Ages of Faith were thus possessed, — Popes John 
XXII, Sixtus IV, and Alexander VI, or other members 
of the Borgia family; or later, Catherine II, of Russia; 
Catharine de Medici, of France; Henry VIII, or 
Bloody Mary, of England; Torquemada or St. Dom- 
inic, of Spain, — or in our own time King Leopold, of 
Belgium, and some other people in a smaller way. But 
certain it is that no disease, with our present knowledge 
of pathology, could correctly be called " demoniacal 
possession." And it is also untenable that an actual 
in-dwelling of an evil spirit, with individual identity, 
could thus manifest its presence by convulsions. 

But to return to appendicitis. Professor John 
Eddie translates Paul's description of his disease 
as follows : " Bearing about with him a sharp 
pointed stake in the flesh which no person could ex- 
tract." And this still expresses the feeling of a man 
with a chronic intestinal inflammation in or near the 

1 20 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

region of the appendix. " Piercing," " stabbing," 
" tearing," " sharp," " dull," " cutting," are terms also 
used every day by persons in describing the peculiar 
torment of intestinal suffering. 

The attacks occur, too, at irregular intervals, unlike 
fever and ague, as Sir William Ramsay said it was, and 
comes sometimes as unexpectedly as an arrow from 
an ambush, prostrating the patient completely, as Paul 
sometimes was. Then until another attack there is 
comparative restoration. There is malaise, or discom- 
fort, or a feeling of being " donsey " instead of a feel- 
ing of definite disease that makes activity difficult rather 
than impossible. During the intervals of comparative 
obliteration of its most distressing manifestations the 
patient may resume work. 

This applies to Paul's condition, and as accurately 
to a person suffering from chronic appendicitis. 

In the case of my marine protege it was also " the 
minister of Satan sent to buffet him." This epithet 
" buffet " is also significant, and it is symptomatic still 
of this variety of appendicitis, for after such a spell 
the muscles not only of the abdomen but of the whole 
body feel as if buffeted or beaten by some infernal 
power, Satan as likely as any of the other demons, 
whose name was legion, known to the fertile imagina- 
tion of the ancients. 

If the reader will take time to compare the Greek 
words of the New Testament in describing Paul's in- 
firmity with the words used in modern text-books in de- 
scribing the suffering consequent upon an attack of 

121 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

perityphlitis, or appendicitis, he or she will be surprised 
at the startling similarity. 

It is also worthy of note, if reliance may be placed on 
the diagnostic value of portraits, that corroboration of 
this theory that the disease was of the alimentary canal 
may be seen in the medallion of Peter and Paul that 
was found in the cemetery of Domatella and is now in 
the Vatican library, to which reference has been made 
before. It is possible to learn a good deal about a 
man's character and health from his pictures. We all 
do it every day. Portraits are preserved, usually for 
that very purpose, — to keep in memory the traits of 
the deceased. 

The fades, or general aspect, of chronic intestinal 
suffering is in this contemporary medallion face that is 
said to be Paul's. It represents Paul and Peter both 
as being of a physical appearance not likely to appeal 
to an athlete. The medallion is another illustration of 
the fact that much of the great work of the world is not 
done by physically perfect persons. It is also an illus- 
tration of the worthlessness of the popular adage, " a 
sound mind in a sound body," as a concomitant of 
ability or corollary of efficient conduct, when we know 
that much of the best work of the world has been 
done by infirm persons. 

For my own part, give me a semi-invalid, with a 
sanctified will and a cultivated conscience, for effective 
work, and you may have your picturesque embodiment 
of the manly graces for the adornment of afternoon 
teas and the decoration of pageants. 

122 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

In this ancient medallion neither of the saints is 
good-looking. Paul is less so than Peter. He is rep- 
resented with diseased eyes, — that is to say, granu- 
lated lids, or Egyptian ophthalmia, or trachoma, — open 
mouth, bald, with short, thick beard, but with what is 
said to be '■ a thoughtful and dignified expression." 
Very much to me it would seem like a man naturally 
affable, but suffering to the point of distress from that 
remorse of a guilty stomach known as " dyspepsia," 
when some part of the alimentary canal, after the man- 
ner of righteous Jehoshaphat, waxes not only " fat," 
but indignant, and " kicks." The picture certainly 
gives the impression of a man suffering from disease 
of some part of the alimentary tract. 



123 



CHAPTER III 

There may be something confirmatory too in the 
claim that fish is a frequent cause of appendicitis — see 
" Quain's Medical Dictionary." Small particles of 
bone escaping complete mastication and getting into the 
appendix or lodging in the folds of mucous membrane 
in its region are the originating irritant. The fact that 
the people of Paul's country, even when not living in 
proximity to the lakes, were fish-eaters to a marked 
extent might also add its moiety of plausibility to my 
conjecture. 

The fish industry was of great importance com- 
mercially in that land, where, according to the Rabbis, 
" God supplied the people with seven seas and only kept 
one to Himself, the sea of Galilee." Fish so entered 
into every avenue of life and was so liberally an article 
of diet in that otherwise barren commonwealth that 
we have no doubt that if they had published mortality 
lists in those days we would have found that many of 
their diseases were due to their eating so much of this 
food. It has been said that leprosy, their commonest 
affliction, as far as we know, was caused by a too ex- 
clusive fish diet, and likely many of their other skin 
diseases might be traced to the same origin. 
^ Even the names of many of the leading towns recall 

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WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

the traffic in fish : Tarichsea, that is to say, " Pickling 
settlement," their great fish curing port; Chorazin, 
the subject of one of Christ's " woes," named after 
the fish Coraein, mentioned by Josephus as being found 
in that neighborhood; then, on the other side of the 
Jordan, Bethsaida, — its English equivalent would be 
" the fishers' town," — rebuilt and renamed Julias by 
the Tetrarch Philip, and many other villages. Ca- 
pernaum, for example, signifies " the highway to the 
sea," where fish from the shores were brought in 
enormous quantities to the inland towns. Many of 
the early disciples were fishermen. 

This, in connection with the fact that appendicitis 
and other inflammations of the intestines near the seat 
of the appendix are due to the irritation caused by 
small particles of fish-bone, might also give support to 
the theory of " the thorn's " having been chronic in- 
flammation of the appendix. 

Physicians who attend persons that have spent their 
vacations in out-of-the-way seashore and fishing re- 
sorts, where fish form the staple provender, will recall 
that most of the diseases that trouble such persons are 
diseases of the alimentary canal. 

We recall now a young lady who, having spent a 
summer in a Nantucket boarding-house, while there 
lived on lobsters and other denizens of the deep. She 
suffered for a long time, severely at intervals, from at- 
tacks of appendicitis due to lodgment in the region of 
the appendix of small particles of marine skeletons. 
Nothing short of an operation could cure her. 



WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

Other pathologic, digestive, and sociologic singular- 
ities in the public career of Paul incidental to his being 
an itinerant defender of an unpopular cause might give 
additional force to our guess that his disease was intes- 
tinal : for example, — the irregularity, the anxiety, and 
the poverty of his life, the inadequacy, the insufficiency, 
and the consequent unsuitability of his food in that 
land where even to-day travelers still find that "it is 
only by an exercise of the imagination that they can 
call any piece of maltreated dough bread," to say noth- 
ing of fish. 

Thus hunger, shipwreck, cold, imprisonment, scourg- 
ing, stonings, and other indignities, the extremes of 
want and abundance, with their accompanying tempta- 
tion to excess, would be conducive of intestinal disease. 
We feel like apologizing for talking about Paul's 
probable physical defects thus, in the open. Details of 
disease should be for the private ear of the family phy- 
sician alone, and we have no patience with that class 
of valetudinarians that proclaim their functional dis- 
turbances from the pinnacle of every opportunity, and 
date the events of their lives from the day of their 
last surgical operation, with the same gusto and as 
jubilantly as a poet talks of spring. 

There is something sacred about disease, at least 
there is something delicate about it, that should prevent 
its public discussion. Yet physicians cannot discrimi- 
nate between saints and sinners when talking about 
their maladies, since the Power that presides over 
pathology is no respecter of persons and makes no dis- 

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WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

tinction because of virtue and good works between the 
man who sleeps in a draught and the one who shuts 
the door. Time and chance happeneth to them all. 
The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the 
strong, nor does the pestilence blow over the virtuous 
to attack the villainous. 

Then we must consider too Paul's exposure to the 
elements when he was insufficiently clad. He must 
have felt cold at times, for we remember that in writing 
from Rome to Timothy he says, " The cloak that I left 
at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with 
thee, and the books, but especially the parchments." 
So that he must have felt the effect of the Roman 
winter, and, like the poet Carducci, the need of " parch- 
ments " also. 

The Bacillus Coli Communis is not a merely post- 
Pauline creation, but is likely as old as the pyramids. 

His physical appearance, judging from tradition 
and description, must have implied some emaciating 
chronic disease. Uncomplicated epilepsy would give 
no appearance of invalidism, as an epileptic may be and 
frequently is the most robust of men. But with 
chronic appendicitis the whole system may be poisoned 
by that one focus of infection, — the inflamed appendix 
and the various tissues surrounding it, — producing 
such disturbances as every physician knows would in- 
terfere with nutrition and bring the patient into that 
state of semi-invalidism which we believe to have been 
the constant condition of the apostle. 

Luther's conception of Paul's physical condition, — 

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WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

based upon a study of the church fathers in connection 
with Scripture, — as " ein armes durres manlein wie 
Maj ester Philippus," that is to say, Melanchthon, who 
was a confirmed invalid and small of stature, and Pro- 
fessor Jowett's designation of the saint as " a poor 
decrepid creature, afflicted with palsy," without his ap- 
parently knowing what the palsy of Scripture really 
was, might also add their link, even if a weak one, to 
the chain of evidence in favor of my conjecture that 
the disease was one of the alimentary canal near or in 
the appendix, instead of "temptation; " " sore eyes; " 
" remorse ; " " hemorrhoids ; " " articular rheuma- 
tism;" " Bright's disease," which is possible despite 
the anachronism ; " paralysis agitans ; " " varicose 
veins ; " " the malady of the man of Uz," boils, which 
was the theory of a father of the church; " malaria; " 
"stone;" "lameness;" " diminutiveness ; " "feeble- 
ness of speech; " " Theela," or any other creature. 

We know that all through his writings there runs a 
deep current of reference to weaknesses, discourage- 
ments, dejection, sufferings. Diseases below the dia- 
phragm are associated with gloom; those above, with 
hope. He frequently alludes to nervous apprehensions, 
to indispositions as hindrances to his labors. There 
seems to have been because of his sickness a consequent 
sense of humiliation, as if being chastened, notwith- 
standing the orthodox feeling of the extremely devout 
that whom the Lord loveth he chastiseth. 

In one place he says, " I was with you in weakness 
and in fear and in much trembling." In another 

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WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

he declares that he had " the sentence of death in 
himself." Another passage asserts that his sickness 
was %ad' vTTefioXpijv , — that is to say, " grievous beyond 
our power of endurance." In another place he writes 
that " so great was his suffering that he despaired even 
of life." Again he seems to have thought his malady 
was such a mortal one " that it was only God who 
raised the dead that could have rescued him from so 
great a death." 

On another occasion the prospect of restoration to 
health was so completely gone that his recovery was 
like " a resurrection from the dead." " Affliction, 
anguish of heart, and many tears " is another literal 
translation of a phrase that he uses in describing his 
extreme pain. 

All these exclamations of anguish might be applied 
to chronic appendicial trouble or perhaps cancer as to 
no other disease. Paul's trouble could not have been 
cancer or he would not have lived so long. Nor could 
such expressions be applied to epilepsy, since epilepsy 
is never associated with pain. We have had under 
our care epileptics that had been so for years without 
their having known it, and most persons afflicted this 
way might not know anything about it unless someone 
told them. The consternation and alarm transmitted 
to bystanders by persons in convulsions is never felt 
by the victim, and after recovery there is no memory 
of what he passed through. 

Again, during his paroxysm, in the criticism of his 
unknown-to-us opponents on himself and his writings, 

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WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

which he quotes, occurs the phrase, ^ ds Ttapoooiba too 
od)nazo<; dodevijc;. It does not refer to stature and phy- 
sical condition but to the impression of frailty, sick- 
ness, and general discrasia which his appearance indi- 
cated. 

Many other similar passages may occur to the pro- 
fessional student of Paul that not only are not observed 
by the mere amateur, but are mortifying drawbacks to 
his eagerness and success. 

My special patient's temperature, — which was never 
higher than 101 even when suffering severely, indeed 
once or twice it was slightly subnormal, — might readily 
have escaped correct observation by Luke, especially in 
days when there were no instruments of precision to 
aid the physician in making a definite diagnosis, even 
if the pathology and symptomatology of the disease 
had been known. The autopsy, which was made by 
Dr. Thomas Morton, of the Pennsylvania Hospital, 
my consultant in the case, revealed, according to my 
case book, " a large tough fibrous thickening of that 
part of the intestine surrounding the vermiform ap- 
pendage, without suppuration or perforation." Death 
was caused by the mass of fibroid tissue obstructing the 
intestinal tract, causing pain and consequent exhaus- 
tion. 

There is no doubt in my mind, therefore, that the 
seat of Paul's anxiety and the subject of so many 
prayers was subacute inflammation of the appendix 
and its surrounding tissue. 

Everything said about it, both by himself and his 

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WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AN EPILEPTIC? 

commentators, fits into this disease as the hand into the 
glove — which was made for it, or lends itself to every 
diagnostic point mentioned in connection with it as 
water lends itself to every conformation of the vessel 
into which it is poured. And we furthermore believe 
that if the Chief of the Apostles had lived in Phila- 
delphia in the twentieth century, as he did in Asia 
Minor in the beginning of the first, he would have gone 
to the hospital of his denomination, — the Presbyterian, 
— and would have put himself under the care of one 
of the surgeons there, who would have cut out " his 
thorn in the flesh,'' and that would have been the end 
of it. 



131